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WU MING is a collective of Italian fiction writers, founded in 
Bologna in January 2000. Its books include the bestselling novel Q, 
published under the group’s previous pseudonym, Luther Blissett, 
and the Cold War thriller 54. 

Praise for Manituana 

“The vivid scenery, well-developed characters and crisp translation 
are immensely satisfying.” Publishers Weekly 

“Wu Ming manage to construct stories articulated around the 
muscular fibres of history . . . Manituana is not only a narrative 
about what could have been, but a cartography of the possible.” 
Roberto Saviano (author of Gomorrah), L’Espresso 

“Odd, spirited, tale of educated Indians, savage Europeans and bad 
mojo in the American outback at the time of the Revolutionary 
War. The Italian fiction collective known as Wu Ming is 
back . . . [with a] worthy treatment of a history too little known.” 
Kirkus Reviews 

“The novel succeeds in its intention of entertaining the reader 
with a mass of scenes reconstructed from the shards of history 
and sustained by a cast of thousands ... A novel published in the 
age of Obama, Manituana provides interesting . . . insights into 
the uneasy founding of modern, multiethnic America.” Madeline 
Clements, Times Literary Supplement 

“Shaun Whiteside’s streamlined translation allows matters to zip 
along with gusto. There’s never a dry moment.” Metro 

“An enlightening . . . always invigorating read.” Gordon Darroch, 
Sunday Herald ( Glasgow) 

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“ Manituana is virtually seamless and the translation is impeccable 
... It is a quality story that includes characters of depth, a good deal 
of action, a consistently thoughtful context and thought-provoking 
concepts.” Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch 

“ Manituana paints a vivid picture of life at the time and suc- 
cessfully weaves together the culture, traditions and particularly 
the languages of the Six Nations and the various European settlers 
living among them. It challenges many myths.” Clare Fermont, 
Socialist Review 

“The narrative reads cohesively, slipping seamlessly from one scene 
to the next. Like other fine works of historical fiction, it brings a 
personal touch to the actual events. Even minor characters reflect 
the events that shaped a nation . . . Recommended for anyone who 
enjoys historical fiction.” Library Journal 

“A gorgeously wrought novel . . . this is a very fine book that 
challenges the popular romantic notions of America’s birth. It 
delves deeply into a complicated period of history, returning to the 
surface with a fascinating trove of cultural details and historical 
anecdotes.” Bookslut 

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Wu Ming 

Translated by Shaun Whiteside 


London • New York 

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First published in English by Verso 2009 
© Verso 2009 
© 2007 by Wu Ming 

Published by arrangement with Agenzia Letteraria Roberto Santachiara 
This paperback edition first published by Verso 2010 
Translation © Shaun Whiteside 2009 
First published as Manituana 
© Einaudi 2007 
All rights reserved 

The partial or total reproduction of this publication, in electronic form 
or otherwise, is consented to for noncommercial purposes, provided 
that the original copyright notice and this notice are included and the 
publisher and the source and this notice are included and the publisher 
and the source are clearly acknowledged. Any reproduction or use of all or 
a portion of this publication in exchange for financial consideration of any 
kind is prohibited without permission in writing from the publisher. 

1 3579 108642 


UK: 6 Meard Street, London W1F 0EG 
US: 20 Jay Street, Suite 1010, Brooklyn, NY 11201 

Verso is the imprint of New Left Books 

ISBN-13: 978-1-84467-624-8 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress 

Typeset in Garamond by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh 
Printed in the US by Maple Vail 

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To Piermario 
To Maria 

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31 August 1142 In the area that lies between modern-day New 
York and Pennsylvania, following the preaching of the prophets 
Hiawatha and Deganawida, five great Indian tribes come together 
and form the Iroquois Confederation or the Five Nations (Mohawk, 
Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga and Seneca). 

1 1 November 1620 The Mayflower lands at what became Plymouth 
in Massachusetts. The pilgrims found New England, and the Anglo- 
Saxon colonization of North America begins. 

26 May 1637 New England settlers, at war with the Pequot Indians, 
attack and set fire to the Misistuck village, killingwomen and children. 

20 April 1710 The court ofthe British Queen Anne receives adelegation 
of Iroquois led by the Mohawk sachem Hendrick Theyanoguin. 

1713-15 The Tuscarora, a Native American tribe of North Carolina, 
flee their lands after being defeated in the war against white settlers. 
They move north to become the sixth Iroquois nation. 

1738 The Irishman William Johnson disembarks at New York. His 
destination is the county of Tryon, in the valley of the Mohawk 
River, where his uncle’s estate is waiting for him. 

1755-56 William Johnson is made a baronet and Superintendent 
of Indian Affairs for North America. 

1754-63 The Six Nations supports the British troops during the 
French and Indian War. Many other tribes side with the French. 
At the end of the conflict, the French cede their North American 
territory to the British. 

1763-66 In the Great Lakes region, Chief Pontiac leads a revolt 
against the British. At the end of hostilities, Pontiac and Sir William 
Johnson meet at the Ontario Lake and sign a peace treaty. 

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5 November 1768 Sir William Johnson and a delegation of the Six 
Nations sign the treaty of Fort Stanwix, which sets a boundary on 
the expansion of white settlements. 

16 December 1773 The Boston Tea Party. A group of colonists in 
Boston, calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, board three docked 
ships dressed as Mohawks. In protest against British taxes and the 
monopoly of the East India Company, they destroy the cargo of tea. 
The British parliament responds with punitive measures that help 
unite the colonies in the coming War of Independence. 

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A solitary may be sober, pious, he may wear a hair shirt, and he 
may very well be a saint, but I will call him virtuous only when 
he has performed some act of virtue from which other men will 
benefit. While he remains alone he will be acting neither well nor 
ill; for us he is nothing. 

— Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary 

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Lake George, Colony of New York, 8 September 1755 

The sun’s rays followed the squad, blood-light filtered through the 

The man on the stretcher clenched his teeth; there was a sting 
in his side. He looked down. Drops of scarlet dripped from the 

Hendrick was dead and many Mohawk warriors with him. 

Again he saw the old chief caught under the bulk of his horse, the 
Caughnawaga rushing at him. 

The Indians never fought on horseback, but Hendrick couldn’t 
run or jump anymore. They had to hoist him up on the saddle. How 
old was he? Holy Christ, he’d met Queen Anne. He was Noah, 

He had died fighting the enemy. A noble, perhaps an enviable, 
end; if only his corpse had been found so that it could be given a 
Christian burial. 

William Johnson let his thoughts drift, a flock of swallows, as the 
bearers walked along the path. He didn’t want to close his eyes: the 
pain helped him stay awake. He thought of John, his firstborn, still 
too young for war. His son would inherit peace. 

Voices and a general hubbub announced the presence of the 
camp. Women shrieked and railed, asking about sons and husbands. 

They laid him down in the tent. 

“How do you feel?” 

He recognized the surly face and gray eyes of Captain Butler. He 
tried to smile, and managed only a grimace. 

“My right side hurts like hell.” 

“A sign that you’re alive. The doctor will be here any moment.” 

“Hendrick’s warriors ?” 

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“I met them as I was on my way back here. They were scalping 
corpses and wounded men, without distinction.” 

William let his head sink back on his straw bed and took a breath. 
He had given his word to Dieskau: No one would attack the French 
prisoners. Hendrick had extracted the promise from the warriors, 
but Hendrick was dead. 

A short man came into the tent, purple in the face, his jacket 
stained with sweat. 

William Johnson raised his head. 

“Doctor. I’ve got some trouble here for you.” 

The doctor slipped offhis coat, helped by Captain Butler. He cut 
away Williams breeches with a pair of scissors and began to wash 
and dab at the wound. 

“You’re lucky. The bullet hit the bone and bounced off it.” 

“You hear that, Butler? I repel bullets.” 

The captain muttered a word of thanks to God and offered 
William a rag to bite on while the doctor cauterized the wound. 

“Don’t get up. You’ve lost a lot of blood.” 

“Doctor. . .” William’s face was tense and washed out, his voice 
a croak. “Our men are leading the French prisoners to the camp. 
There’s an officer among them, General Dieskau. He’s wounded, he 
may be unconscious. I want you to treat him. Captain, go with the 

Butler and the medic were about to say something, but William 
was ahead of them. “I’ll be all right on my own. I’m not going to die, 
I assure you.” 

Butler nodded without a word. The two men left. To keep from 
fainting, William pricked his ears and concentrated his thoughts on 
the noises. 

Wind shaking the trees. 

Cries of crows. 

Shouting in the distance. 

Shouting nearby. 

Cries of women. 

A sudden confusion ran through the camp. William thought it 
was Butler coming back with the prisoners. 

He looked out of the tent. A group of Mohawk warriors: they 
were wailing and weeping, tomahawks high above their heads. They 
were dragging Caughnawaga, warriors with ropes around their 

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necks, hands tied behind their backs. The women of the camp were 
tormenting these prisoners with kicks, blows and a hail of stones. 

The squad stopped no more than thirty yards away. None of the 
warriors looked toward the tent: they had forgotten everything; 
all their senses were focused on revenge. The most agitated among 
them paced back and forth. 

“You aren’t men. You are dogs, friends of the French! Hendrick 
told you all not to bear arms against your brothers ! He warned you!” 

He grabbed one prisoner by the hair, dragged him to his knees 
and cut oft his scalp. The man fell in the dust, screaming and 
writhing. The women finished him oft with sticks. 

William felt sweat freezing on his skin. 

A second prisoner was scalped and the women kicked him before 
beating him to death. 

William prayed that no white men were among those about to 
die. While it remained a matter among Indians, he could keep from 

Hendrick was dead. Sons and brothers were dead. The Mohawk 
had a right to vengeance, as long as they didn’t touch the French: 
they needed them for the exchange of hostages. 

The third Caughnawaga fell to the ground with his skull smashed 

At headquarters in Albany the ringleaders sent by England didn’t 
understand. They couldn’t fight as they could in Europe. The French 
were unleashing the tribes against the English settlers. Incursions, 
fires and pillaging. Petite guerre , they called it. The French had a 
name for everything. At British high command they needed the 
stomach to react in kind. What was at stake was control of a whole 

The arrival of new prisoners interrupted his reflections. White 
civilians, quartermasters, farriers and soldiers in ragged uniforms. 
One of the warriors dragged a boy out of the group. He was dressed 
as the regimental drummer. 

William was exhausted. He struggled to catch what was being 
said, but the little boy’s fate was clear. A second warrior confronted 
the first, who was already showing his knife. 

With the feathers on their heads and their painted bodies, they 
looked like two fighting-cocks in an arena. 

* * * 

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“He’s wearing the uniform of the French. You can’t take his scalp!” 

“I heard him speaking Caughnawaga.” 

“Hendrick said the white prisoners were the responsibility of the 
English fathers.” 

“Look at his face, does he look like a white man to you?” 

“If Hendrick were here he’d chuck you out.” 

“I wish to avenge him.” 

“You dishonor him.” 

“Do you want to wait for him to grow up and become a warrior? 
Better to kill him straightaway, now that the Caughnawaga traitors 
are in flight and afraid of you.” 

“Idiot! Warraghiyagey will be furious with you.” 

William Johnson heard his own Indian name being uttered. 
Warraghiyagey, “He Who Does Much Business.” He hoisted himself 
up on his elbows; he had to intervene. 

He saw the knife coming down toward the drummer boy’s scalp. 
He filled his lungs to shout. 

Something struck the warrior in the face. 

A stone bounced to the ground. The man relaxed his grip, 
brought his hand to his mouth, coughed, spat blood. A quick little 
figure was on top of him, pushing him away. 

A flash of boar skin and raven hair. It roared at the warriors, who 
recoiled in terror. 

“You are without honor,” shouted the young woman. “You say 
you want to avenge Hendrick, but its the Englishmen’s money that 
you want, ten shillings for every Indian scalp!” 

She walked over to the warrior, who was still clutching his dagger, 
and spat at him. The man was about to strike her, but she strode 
right up to him. 

“He’s little more than a child. He’s never fired a shot. He could be 
the same age as my brother.” She pointed to an alert-looking boy on 
the edge of the circle of women that had formed around the scene. 
“When you’ve collected your pay you’ll spend it on rum. Those who 
today give themselves airs of being great warriors, tomorrow will roll 
in the mud like pigs.” 

The warrior made a gesture of contempt before retreating. 

The woman turned to the others. “You think only of scalps, but 
scalps don’t go hunting, they don’t put food on the table, they don’t 

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grow vegetables. Are you so drunk on blood that you trample on our 
customs ? Today many women have lost sons and husbands. They 
are receiving new hands in compensation.” She looked the little 
drummer boy up and down. “We must adopt the prisoners as new 
sons and brothers, according to tradition. My mother’s mother was 
adopted; she came from the Great Lakes. Hendrick himself became 
a Mohawk in that way. You would have killed him!” 

The other women went and stood behind the young one. Together 
they confronted the warriors. The men exchanged uncertain glances, 
then walked away with feigned indifference and a lot of muttering. 

William Johnson fell back on the stretcher. 

He knew that Fury, he had seen her as a child. 

Molly, daughter of the sachem Brant Canagaraduncka. 

She alone had stood up to the warriors. 

She had decided a prisoner’s fate. 

She spoke as Hendrick would have. 

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Part One 



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1 . 

They had brought the children along as well, so that they might one 
day tell their children and grandchildren. After many attempts, they 
had finally stood the pole upright. The Liberty Pole. 

A birch trunk, properly cleaned and smoothed. A tangle of 
rope. A red fabric rectangle cut from a blanket. The banner of the 
Continental Congress. 

The German Flatts committee of safety was approving its first 
document: its acceptance of the remonstrance that the Albany 
Committee had sent to the British Parliament. It was read out by 
Pastor Bauer. The text concluded with a solemn undertaking to 
“join and unite together under all the ties of religion, honor, justice 
and love for our country, never to become slaves, and to defend our 
freedom with out lives and fortunes.” 

The standard was just about to be raised, hailed by songs and 
prayers, when the sound of hooves interrupted the ceremony. 

A squad of horsemen appeared outside the church. They 
brandished sabers, rifles and pistols. Someone fired into the air as 
the little crowd sought shelter among the houses. A few courageous 
people remained in the square. Frightened faces appeared from 
behind the walls, in half-open doors and at the tavern windows. A 
name flew from one mouth to the next, in a round dance of voices. 

The name of the man who had fired his gun into the air. 

Sir John Johnson. 

Around him, the men of the Department of Indian Affairs. His 
brothers-in-law Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus. Directly behind 
him, Captain John Butler and Cormac McLeod, the Johnson 
family’s bailiff and head of the Scottish tenant farmers who worked 
the baronet’s land. 

The only one missing was the clan’s old patriarch, Sir William, 
hero of the war against the French, lord of the Mohawk Valley, who 
had died the previous year. 

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Sir John was mounted on a gleaming bay thoroughbred that 
trembled against the constraint of the bit. He slipped from the 
group and began to ride along the perimeter of the square, staring 
disdainfully at the members of the committee, one after the other. 

Guy Johnson brought his horse into the shelter of a canopy and 
dismounted with some difficulty, because of his build. 

“Come on, we’re here to talk,” he called to the houses. “That’s 
what you want, isn’t it ?” 

No one breathed. Sir John tugged on the bridle, and the horse 
stepped back and twisted its head before yielding to its master’s will. 

Then someone summoned the courage. The group confronting 
the mounted men grew denser. 

Guyjohnson scowled at them. 

“To address a petition to Parliament is legal, but hoisting a 
banner that is not the king’s is sedition. One thing makes you look 
ridiculous, the other sends you to the gallows.” 

Silence again. The members of the committee avoided looking 
at one another for fear of spotting signs of indecision in the eyes of 
their companions. 

“Do you want to follow the example of the Bostonians?” Guy 
Johnson continued. “Two gunshots fired at the king’s army and 
it went to their heads. His Majesty has the most powerful fleet in 
the world. He is a good friend of the Indians. He controls all the 
forts from Canada to Florida. Do you imagine that the rebels of 
Massachusetts will get much more than a noose around their necks ?” 

He paused, as if he wanted to hear the blood boiling in the veins 
of the Germans. 

“The Johnson family,” he went on calmly, “possesses more land 
and commerce than all of you put together. We would be the first 
to take your side, if His Majesty really were threatening the right to 

A voice rang out loudly: “Your trade certainly isn’t threatened. 
You are rich and well connected. We’re the ones being throttled by 
the king’s taxes.” 

A chorus of agreement welcomed these words. From the top of 
the roof Guyjohnson made out Paul Rynard, the cooper. A hothead. 

Sir John’s stallion shook its head and snorted nervously, and 
received another tug on the reins. 

The baronet’s riding whip struck the leather of his boot. 

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“The taxes are needed to keep the army,” Guy Johnson replied. 
“The army maintains order in the colony.” 

“You need the army to keep us down,” Rynard shot back. 

Tempers flared, some of the horsemen instinctively raised their 
arms, but lowered them again at a nod from Sir John. 

“Not yet,” muttered the baronet. 

Guy Johnson, red in the face, yelled from above: “When the 
French and their Indians threatened your lands, you cried out for 
the army ! Peace has made you so arrogant and stupid that you want 
another war. Be very careful, freedom is no use to the dead.” 

“You’re threatening us!” shouted Rynard. 

“Get back to Ireland and your Papist friends!” called someone. A 
rock hurled at Guy Johnson just missed him. 

A grimace of smug disdain crossed Sir John’s face: “Now.” 

The horses moved forward, and the committee of safety dissolved 
on the spot. The men ran in all directions. 

John Butler’s horse knocked Rynard down and sent him rolling in 
the mud. The cooper stood up again and was about to escape toward 
the church, but Sir John blocked his way. The baronet whipped him 
with all his strength. Rynard curled up on the ground, hands over 
his face. Between his fingers, he saw McLeod unsheathing his sword 
and setting oft at a gallop. He crept away, invoking God’s mercy. 
When he received the blow with the flat of the sword in the small 
of his back, he shouted out loud, amidst the rough laughter of the 

As it dawned on Rynard that he was still alive, the men of the 
Department gathered in the center of the square. Guy Johnson got 
back in the saddle and joined them. 

A light kick with the spurs and Sir John was at the bottom of the 
Tiberty Pole. 

He spoke so that everyone could hear him, wherever they might 
be lurking. 

“Tisten carefully! Anyone in this county who wants to challenge 
the authority of the king will have to deal with my family and the 
Indian Department.” His malevolent eyes seemed to be unearthing 
all the inhabitants one by one, behind the dark windows. 

“I swear on the name of my father, Sir William Johnson.” 

He slipped one foot from his stirrup. After a few kicks, the pole 
tumbled into the mud. 

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2 . 

Sitting in his armchair, Jonas Klug chuckled in the gloom. A blade of 
moonlight struck the eviction notice that he held in his hands. He 
gazed at it in ecstasy even though in the darkness he couldn’t read it 
or even make out its words. He stroked it, running his fingertip over 
the grain of the paper, sniffing it like the perfumed letter of a lover. 
Perfume of wealth, perfume of earth, of the future. 

The Indians, on the other hand, stank of the past. 

Jonas Klug was tipsy: he had been celebrating. The sitting-room 
clock showed five to eleven. His wife was already in bed, the servants 

Getting the Mohawks drunk was easy. Torrents of rum flowed 
in what they called the Tonghouse, the name given to the land of 
the Six Iroquois Nations. Men and women wallowed in puddles 
of alcohol. Tike the whites, or even more so, the drunken savages 
lost all restraint, they laughed until they dislocated their jaws, they 
bent double as they lost their balance, they fell and rolled in the dust 
or foamed with fury, starting scuffles that turned into brawls that 
turned into piles of raging bodies. One of their chiefs had died like 
that, drunk, falling into the fire. 

If drink was ruining the Six Nations, why not take advantage ? 
Klug was a businessman. He had seen a stretch of good land to the 
east of the village, five thousand acres of forest and hillside clearings, 
a few Indian shacks and the smallholdings ofwhite tenant farmers — 
Papist Irish or Scots, who paid rent to the Mohawk in kind. 

Klug was German. Twenty years before he had disembarked in 
New York dressed in rags. Years of indentured labor, shoveling other 
people’s shit, and then redemption, freedom, a journey into the 
interior and finally the land. More land than he had ever imagined. 
He had broken his back, he had dug and built, in the hope of 
banishing poverty forever. Then war had come between England 
and France. A time of terror, barricaded at home for fear of Indian 

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raids. In the end peace and prosperity had returned. Jonas Klug had 
even acquired a family of slaves who hoed the land in his stead. 

Now those five thousand acres were his as well. With the money 
that he had saved he would be able to build a mill, a second farm, sell 
wood, sow barley and rye, produce beer and whiskey, raise animals. 
Or he could sell it again. 

The law — the little law that there was — was on his side. The right 
side. God didn’t protect the savages: Jesus was white, not Indian. 

All the Indians wanted was rum. The most sober sachems had 
often spoken out against the devil’s water, and the Old Man, 
too, before his death, had looked into the problem. Which 
amounted to saying that they had spoken out against breathing, 
and William Johnson, the baronet who protected the Indians, 
had been in charge of air. Rum was everywhere and it was there 
to stay. 

As simple as knocking back a shot: three years back, Klug had got 
the right Indian drunk, the stupidest, most boastful one, Temuel, 
Temuel something, and friends of his, as stupid as he was. After 
they’d got drunk, before they threw their guts up, they had signed 
the transfer papers. With a lovely illiterate “X,” which came to the 
same thing. Not that Klug was a man of letters, but from the little 
that he knew he had built a lot. 

In the contract, Temuel and company declared themselves legal 
representatives of the inhabitants of Canajoharie, owners of the 
land. A kind of tribal council, an Indian thing. Thereunder, they 
yielded four thousand acres in return for two cases of rum. 

“X,” “X” and “X,” in front of witnesses. 

Beneficiary: Jonas Klug. 

Shortly afterward, on a night when the moon was full, he had sent 
a surveyor friend, who set out to map the territory. A thousand acres 
more than was stated in the contract. So he had sent everything to 
Albany and a year later had received the deed of ownership. 

Rude awakening for the savages of Chief Tosspot. 

The Mohawks had taken legal action, saying that Jonas Klug had 
acted in bad faith, that only the sachems could sign a contract of 
that kind and that the negotiation had been conducted without 
an official interpreter. They had moved heaven and earth, they had 
appealed to their baronet, to Governor Tryon, to the British Crown. 
Petitions in court, and other protests, and threats to go down the 

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1 6 


path of war. As if a court could find against an honest farmer faced 
with a horde of redskins. 

Klug wasn’t alone : he had people to protect him, and the Indians 
knew it. That was why they talked and talked, presented appeals like 
so many greasy lawyers, but didn’t move into action. 

Many of the settlers admired Klug for what he had done. Some 
couldn’t wait to settle their scores with the savages, a stinking rabble 
that got into your granary when they were hungry, or pinched the 
apples from your trees, and if you weren’t careful, threw up all over 
you as well. God could not have granted these primitive unbelievers 
a right to these lands. 

Klug hated them. And even more, he hated the people who 
protected them: the Indian Department and the Johnson clan, 
with their court, all lace and porcelain. Especially that witch, Molly 
Brant, old Sir William’s whore, with her half-breed children: one 
day face powder and plumed hats, the next seashells and war paint. 
Their estate covered hundreds of thousands of acres, in Onondaga, 
Sacondaga, Schenectady, Kingsborough, Albany, Schoharie. In 
league with the Six Nations and George, King of England. 

Klug knew the arrogant landowners and wheeler-dealers very well. 
His father had wasted his whole life cultivating the fields of gentlemen 
such as these. Klug had emigrated to avoid being lumbered with them, 
and instead they were showing up here too. A blight on the land. 

God knows where Lemuel and his friends had ended up — he’d 
never bumped into them again. Their brothers had probably beaten 
the living daylights out of them, perhaps they’d killed them, or 
chased them from the village. Who knows, they might have fled 
westward, they might have become tramps, every day cursing the 
time they’d got drunk, and drinking again to forget it. 

The land would be his forever, or for as long as he wanted. The 
dispossession notice that he was clutching, validated by the proper 
authorities, was the last stage, the one most eagerly anticipated. A 
kick in the arse for Joseph Brant and the soul of William Johnson 
who burned in hell. 

That was why Jonas Klug was chuckling in the gloom. 

Then the clock struck eleven. 

Silence again. 

Klug heard a noise. 

* * * 

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Joseph Brant had told the governor: the Mohawks’ patience had 
reached its limit. His, to tell the truth, had been exhausted for some 
time. There was also his own land, on those five thousand acres. 

There was a mood of exasperation at the village. Klug’s was only 
the last in a long series of tricks set in motion by the settlers to steal 
land from the Mohawk. 

Thayendanegea, “Two Sticks Bound Together,” baptized with 
the name of Joseph Brant, wasn’t one of the ones who got drunk. 
He was a survivor of the Franco-Indian War, a respected man, the 
interpreter for the Indian Department. 

Governor Tryon had promised to do everything possible, but the 
situation hadn’t changed. In fact, things were getting worse, and a 
black and orphaned future weighed on the nation’s shoulders. The 
warriors were pawing the ground, still obeying the sachems but 
believing that they were too cautious. These things weren’t a matter 
for the courts. Sir William wasn’t around anymore, and many 
people wanted to resolve the matter in the old way: expose Klug’s 
scalp among the trophies of war. 

Joseph had suggested an alternative. He didn’t want to end his days 
as a poor man, and the land and what was on it belonged to him and 
his people, who had always been allies of the king. But neither did 
he want the guilty man to be seen as a victim. With due pressure, he 
would obtain justice for himself and the others, within English law. 

The village council had already given him carte blanche. 

There were about a dozen men around Jonas Klug’s house. 

Joseph slipped to one side. Behind him his companions 
shuddered. They had approached downwind and poisoned the 
dogs. Two warriors had taken care of the African slaves who slept in 
the shack at the end of the farm. Half a dozen derelicts, whom Klug 
kept worse than animals. They wouldn’t cause any problems now. 

Joseph looked at his own image reflected in the windowpane. 
Two hours’ marching didn’t seem to have compromised the effect 
of his clothing: hunting jacket with horn buttons, leather trousers 
and horseman’s boots. By the light of the moon he was merely an 
unstable outline traced in the glass: a shadow with its own retinue 
of shadows. He would appear before the German like a forest spirit. 

Before marching oft, Joseph had reviewed the unit. David 
Royathakariyo and two boys from the Bear clan had painted their 

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faces. Joseph had only murmured something in a low voice, with 
a shake of his head: it was impossible to know what was going on 
in the young man’s head. Anyway, as long as he didn’t do anything 
stupid, everyone had the right to sort himself out as he saw fit. 
Certainly the painting testified to one thing: the will to war. 

Jacob Bowman Kanatawakhon, August Sakihenakenta and a few 
others from the Wolf clan were the ones he most trusted. 

They all seemed more or less sober, apart from the last to arrive, 
Johannes Tekarihoga. The most noble of the Canajoharie had 
turned up tipsy. He stank of rum and took long swigs from the 
bottle, offering some to the others as well. Joseph had spent a whole 
afternoon persuading him to take part. The presence of a figure of 
his rank gave legitimacy to the expedition. If the old sachem fell 
asleep along the road, they would pick him up on the way back. 

Joseph rose up to his full height, motioned to the line of warriors to 
move away from the wall and with large strides covered the distance 
that separated him from the front door. The night air filled his lungs. 
His chest swelled under his jacket. He felt a cold, deep sensation: 
satisfaction. His appearance was elegant and martial. 

Inside, a light was lit. Klug was awake. Better that way. Joseph 
knocked on the door with the ivory head of his walking stick, an old 
present from Sir William. 

“Jonas Klug, open the door! Open up or we’ll break it down!” 

A low rumble came from the warriors. Joseph imagined the 
German throwing open the door and shooting blindly. Impossible: 
Klug valued his skin, he would try and wriggle out of things. 

The door half opened. Joseph pushed the wooden boards with 
the sole of his boot. Klug, his face livid, presented himself to the 
Indians’ view. 

“What are you doing here ? What do you want ?” 

By way of reply, Royathakariyo came up alongside Joseph and 
hurled himself at the German, teeth gritted. 

“What are we doing here, eh? What do you think?” 

The Indian’s hands gripped Klug’s throat. The German gasped for 
air. He emitted a labored grunt as Joseph tried to free him from the 
attacker’s grasp. When he succeeded, Klug collapsed, coughing. 

His wife came down the stairs holding a rifle. She tried to take 
aim, but Kanatawakhon gripped the barrel and pushed it up in the 

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air. The woman began screaming like a thing possessed, imitated by 
the Indians. For a moment it was as if they were trying to see who 
could make the highest-pitched cries. Then the woman withdrew to 
the upper story, supported by her servants. 

Meanwhile Klug tried to escape his fate by crawling away on all 
fours. The Indians were on top of him. 

“Not his head!” Joseph commanded. 

Blows rained down on the Germans back and legs. 

When he considered that the man had had enough, Joseph 
tugged the warriors oft. 

“That’s enough! That’s enough, I said!” 

He bent over Klug and waved a piece of paper in front of his nose. 

“This is a written declaration in which you, Mr. Klug, admit that 
you tricked my people out of their land. You will see what happens 
if you don’t sign.” 

He had prepared the speech over the previous few days. It 
sounded good. 

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In the morning she could hear the land breathing. At midday, she 
could hear the grass growing. In the evening, she could see where the 
winds were going to settle. Many invisible things were clear to Molly 
Brant, as clear as calligraphy, distinct as the outlines of the trees on 
a clear day. From her maternal grandmother she had learned to see 
where other eyes were blind, to hear where other ears were deaf. She 
had learned to capture the oyarons, spirits that guide people through 
dreams. And she had learned the right way to wake up. To open 
her eyelids, to thank the Master of Life, to count three breaths and 
get up straight away, before the body’s laziness numbs the thoughts: 
that way the head remains limpid, dreams don’t escape, the evils of 
the soul can be cured. 

The light from the window cut through the darkness. The lower 
part of the bed remained in shadow, but above her waist the sheets 
were drenched in sunlight. 

Nimbly, Molly got up. Her black hair fell back on her linen 
clothes. She poured water from a jug into the basin, washed her face. 
She dried herself with a piece of cotton and lifted her head. 

In the mirror a network of faint scars, skin that smallpox had 
barely touched. Another battle won by Sir William’s side. 

The tickle of your hair inflames my passion, brings a blush to my cheeks. 

The voice reached her on a breath of wind. Molly studied the 
reflection of her pupils. They could withstand anyone’s gaze, even 
Molly Brant’s. 

Arendiwanen, “Woman of Power.” Rich in things, in lands, in 
children. Capable of dreaming with great strength, as had happened 
in the days of her grandfathers, when Hendrick was young and the 
nation prospered. 

In that night’s dream the church was packed. Heads brushed the 
ceiling, like sacks of maize piled up for the winter. Bears and wolves 

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crouched on the earth floor. Huge tortoises supported the altar on 
their backs. 

The pastor, standing on the pulpit, flicked through the prayer 

Peter got to his feet. He picked up the violin: the old Irish march 
that his father had played on the bagpipes before going into battle. 
Two sachems in black gloves and full mourning brought the coffin 
over to lower it beneath the altar, but the hole had not yet been dug. 

The congregation came forward, one at a time. They picked up a 
spade and tried to plunge it into the ground. In vain. The earth was 
harder than iron. The handle of the shovel broke. 

Joseph gripped his tomahawk to use it as a pick. A warrior came 
up beside him, his face in shade. He dug with his nails until his 
fingers bled. 

Molly stood by the window. Clusters of men and women crowded 
the square outside the general shop. 

An Indian hunter loaded down with furs and a seller of pots and 
pans wanted to engage her as an interpreter and conclude their 
exchanges. They offered a boatman provisions for the journey and 
pitch to mend a boat. Settlers from the neighboring farms had come 
for an extension of payment on their family debts. There were two 
German women from the nearby village of Palatine, one of whom 
the people called a witch but then crossed the river to her shop for 
a miraculous cure for toothache. There were dogs and children, old 
men and warriors, sachems and idlers waiting for their dose of rum. 
Women, young and old, came to swap dreams, to discuss the news 
and at the same time buy salt pork. 

Even through the thick glass, dark and full of bubbles, Molly was 
aware of the excitement. The volume of the voices was higher than 
usual. The tone was animated. Not the ordinary chatter of people 
whiling away the time, but an avalanche of phrases. 

Everyone was talking, no one seemed to be listening. 

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Each time Canajoharie appeared, Joseph Brant thought of the fate 
of his people. 

At the foot of the hill, the Mohawk River looped and enclosed the 
fields and wooden dwellings, built on the model of the longhouses. 

When the nation was still large, the traditional houses had 
remained true to their name: one could hold as many as three 
hundred people. Now the whole village numbered that many. 

The dimensions of the houses had become much smaller. There 
weren’t enough men to fill them, and the Mohawk had become used 
to living like white men. Those of more elevated status had glass in 
their windows, and the poorest settlers looked at them with envy. 

Only the territory of the Six Nations was still a Tonghouse, 
however sym-bolic that might have been: the Seneca defended 
the western gate, the Mohawk the eastern one. In the middle the 
Onondaga guarded the fire. Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora helped 
the three elder-brother nations with their ancestral tasks. 

On the path that climbed from the village, Joseph spotted a figure 
running toward him. 

After visiting the Klug farm, half of the expedition had taken the wrong 
road, lost in clouds of rum. Their alcoholic shouts had woken all the dogs 
within a one-mile radius. Hunted down by the animals, the warriors had 
scattered all around. Some had fallen to the ground, vanquished by sleep. 
It had taken hours to gather them all together and get back on the road. 
Painted faces had become blurry, undignified masks. 

“Fort Ticonderoga!” yelled Peter Johnson as soon as his uncle 
was within hearing. 

When he had caught up with him, he went on: “The rebels. 
They’ve taken Fort Ticonderoga without firing a shot.” 

Joseph looked at his nephew. They had not seen each other often 
over the past few months. After his father’s death, Peter had come 
back from Philadelphia only a few times. 

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2 3 

“They’re under the command of one Ethan Allen, do you know 
who he is, Uncle Joseph?” 

“He’s a bandit from the Green Mountains. He’s been fighting the 
governor for years. Come on, let’s go to your mother’s.” 

Joseph sensed a shiver running through the men behind him. The 
warriors would have preferred to endure a hundred lashes rather 
than present themselves to Molly in this state. With various excuses, 
they dispersed in various directions. 

Uncle and nephew walked on alone. 

Along the path men and women quickened their pace, as at the 
first raindrops of a storm, then suddenly stopped, sucked into the 
crowd. The doors of the houses were left wide open so as not to 
obstruct the passage of the news. 

There wasn’t a young man who didn’t want to act as messenger, 
running from the church to the boat jetty to the more remote farms. 

The main room of the general store stretched a long way to the 
back. Amidst spirals of dust and smoke, the goods occupied every 
nook, every inch of shelving, when they weren’t hanging from 
the roof-beams. Hempen ropes, wooden boxes of nails, wicks, 
tinderboxes. Boxes of paint for warriors, marked with Chinese 
ideograms. Mirrors for painting faces, candles, tools, flints, house 
paints; waxed blankets, skins, clothes of various styles and sizes; 
fresh and dry food, smoked and salted. Finally, in little barrels, the 
indisputable sovereign of every general store, shop or trading station 
for a hundred miles around: rum. 

Joseph greeted his sister, who was busy trying to convince a 
customer that his shillings were fake, just enough for a miser’s alms. 
Peter suddenly offered to subject the coins to an examination, 
guaranteed and infallible. His mother blessed him and nodded to 
Joseph to follow her. 

Hidden behind a rough linen curtain there was a cosy room 
reserved for negotiations and respected customers. The low table 
and the rocking chairs rested on an oriental carpet. On the end wall, 
wooden steps led to the private apartments. Molly went to the stairs 
and ordered someone to bring her some tea. Then she arranged a 
cushion on the sofa, sat down and started keeping away the flies 
with a lace fan. 

Joseph looked at her. She was eight years older than he was. Her 
long plait was shot with white hairs. 

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2 4 


A young black serving girl came into the room with a silver tray 
of Chinese porcelain. Joseph recognized her. She came from the 
drawing room of Johnson Hall. 

“Do you still miss the old house?” he asked. 

Molly shrugged vaguely. 

“I miss my things, the furniture I had chosen, the dishes I bought 
with William in the stores in New York. Sir John’s governess told me 
they were melting down the silver in case the rebels confiscated it.” 

Joseph felt overwhelmed by the heavy atmosphere. A smell of 
leather, grain and cane sugar. Everything was within reach. Light 
filtered through the only skylight. 

He blew out air through his teeth and swallowed the tea. “The 
settlers are becoming more and more arrogant. Since your husband 
died, the law of the white man has offered us hardly any protection.” 

“According to the law of the white man. Sir William wasn’t even 
my husband.” 

From under his jacket Joseph pulled out a folded sheet of paper. 

“They won’t be able to ignore this.” He handed the paper to 
Molly, who opened it and ran her eyes over it. “Klug’s signature is 
authentic,” her brother explained. “We must send a trusted person 
to Albany. It will be delivered to the colony court.” 

Molly smiled faintly and set the document on the tray. 

“The morning mail brought news from the north. The Bostonians 
have taken Ticonderoga and are aiming for Canada.” 

Joseph nodded. “The rebellion’s spreading,” he said, “and the 
Longhouse will have to choose its war, before the war chooses the 

A silence followed, interrupted only by the raised voices beyond 
the curtain. Molly rocked slightly in her chair. 

“Many people say that it’s a dispute between Englishmen, but the 
land is ours and we sealed our agreements with King George.” 

Joseph rose to his feet and drew the curtain aside. 

Peter had persuaded the customer and was holding out the credit 
book for a signature. The boy wasn’t slow off the mark. He lived in 
a big city, on his own and fearless, proud of his origins and his new 
knowledge. He spoke and wrote in three languages: English, French 
and Mohawk. He read music, played the violin and was learning 
his way in business. Soon he would demonstrate his courage to the 
warriors as well. Sir William and Molly had imagined a great future 

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2 5 

for their son. The boy wouldn’t disappoint them. At his ease among 
the white men and in the Longhouse, even at the age of sixteen he 
embodied the future of the nation. 

Joseph took a step back, turned and continued where he had left 

“What would Sir William have done ?” 

Molly studied the dark surface inside her cup. She seemed to 
see again the waters of her dream, and the canoe sailing upstream 
toward the land where the sun sleeps. 

“I’ll ask him in my dreams. He would certainly have defended the 
valley. The world that he had built along with Hendrick.” 

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It was still the finest farm in the area. Solid walls, glass in the windows, 
land all the way to the river. Margaret, Joseph’s mother, had inherited 
it from her third husband, the sachem Brant Canagaraduncka. 

In the farmyard, a family of Irish tenants were lifting a cart to get 
one of the wheels onto the axle. The horses were drinking, tended 
by a little boy. A few Mohawk hunters repaired the keel of a canoe 
while their wives traded with the women from the neighboring 
farms, standing around a pile of blankets. 

Usually Joseph stopped to exchange greetings and observations, 
but not today. 

Susanna welcomed him in the doorway. Christina peered out at 
him from behind her skirt. When she recognized her father she gave 
him a shy smile. He brushed her cheek with his finger and the little 
girl hid again. 

Before he entered, he looked into his wife’s eyes and let her guess 
his worry. 

In the darkness he noticed people around the table, who leaped 
to their feet. Herr Lorenz, Albany’s armorer, waved to him and 
introduced the female Indian guide on his right. The other two 
guests bowed. The older one was about sixteen, and spoke on behalf 
of both of them. They were itinerant teachers, Shawnees. They had 
studied at boarding school in Lebanon, with a view to bringing 
Christ and the alphabet to the frontier villages. Every night they 
stayed with an old pupil from the school. They thanked him for his 
hospitality; they would pray for him. 

Joseph sat down with them, but a figure in the corner drew his 
attention. A pair of eyes reflected the flickers of the fire. 

“Isaac, come and say hello to your father.” 

The little boy approached. Joseph’s firstborn was nine years old, 
not old enough to fight. Joseph wasn’t sure that was good: in times 
of war the weak perish. He gripped his son’s shoulders, as if to test 

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2 7 

his fortitude and also to pass strength on to him. He realized that 
the boy’s cheeks were painted in red and black. As his grip grew 
tighter, Isaac tried to wriggle away, but had to yield to the adult’s 

“These are war paints,” said Joseph, as he vigorously cleaned the 
boy’s face. “They’re not for playing and you don’t bring them home.” 

He let him go and Isaac slipped away toward the door. Children 
no longer had any respect for important things. 

“Your son isn’t to blame for the weight you bear in your mind,” 
murmured Susanna. 

Joseph ignored the rebuke and stretched his hand out to little 
Christina, but the child drew back and followed her brother outside. 

Susanna served him his lunch. Joseph ate without raising his eyes 
from the plate, every sound amplified by the silence. When he had 
finished, he sat down in front of the fire to smoke his pipe, as the 
guests said good-bye, one after the other. 

The last was Torenz, who came over cautiously, with the clear 
intention of saying something. 

He received an indifferent glance. 

“They’re asking me for rifles, Mr. Brant.” 

“Good for your business.” 

Torenz shook his head. 

“You don’t understand. They’re asking me for rifles. Tots of rifles. 
More than I can make.” 

“You’ll get rich.” 

“Between Albany and here I ran into three militia roadblocks. 
They pointed their guns at me, searched the cart, turned everything 
upside down. What in hell’s name is going on, Mr. Brant ? Have they 
gone mad? Are they planning to do what they did in Boston?” 

Joseph let the flames catch his eye as he took ample puffs on his 
pi P e - 

“In that case, we wouldn’t be besieged.” 

The armorer hesitated, then realized that the Indian wasn’t going 
to say anything else and took his leave. 

Joseph went on staring at the fire. 

Susanna called the children. 

She was the sister of Peggy, his first wife. They were Oneida from 
the Susquehannah Valley. After being left a widower, Joseph had 
married her, as custom decreed. Isaac and Christina had become 

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fond of her over the course of a summer. If things became heated, he 
would have to think of her and the children. 

And of Margaret. 

“Where’s my mother?” 

“In bed.” 

“Is she ill?” 

“No. Sometimes she confuses day and night.” 

His old mother appeared on Susannas arm. She sat down opposite 
Joseph, on a worn-out armchair that seemed to be cut for her like a 
piece of clothing. Bones, flesh, wood and fabric were molded into a 
perfect fit. 

“How are you, Margaret ?” 

The old woman squinted as she tried to recognize him. 

“Before I went to bed I asked God to take me in my sleep. Now 
that you’ve woken me up he won’t be able to fulfill my wishes.” 
“Another time, then.” 

“Yes. Give me a smoke.” 

Joseph offered her his pipe. 

“I saw Molly, down at the general store. She says hello.” 

“Tell her to come and see me before I die. I have things to tell her.” 
“Of course, Margaret.” 

The old woman savored the taste of the smoke. “Do you remember 
the first time William Johnson came here?” 


“Your sister was very beautiful. The most beautiful girl in the 
whole valley.” 

Joseph still had clear images in his head. He had been eleven 
when his stepfather had put up that red-haired Irish gentleman. 
Molly was young and of marriageable age. Joseph remembered the 
adults talking about the war against France and her Huron allies, 
Abenaki and Caughnawaga. 

He stroked his mother’s white hair. 

“Is the war still going on?” she asked. 

“It ended twelve years ago.” 

The old woman shook her hair, keeping the pipe clamped 
between her wrinkled lips. 


“Yes, Margaret.” 

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2 9 

“How many grandchildren have I got?” 

“Ten. You have ten grandchildren.” 


Margaret nodded at her own thoughts. 

Joseph watched her for a long time. He respected the past 
contained in that face, memories of old seasons that had come and 
gone one after the other, along with the current of the river. He 
wondered whether one day Isaac and Christina would look after 
him as he looked after Margaret. Perhaps they would look at him 
with the same compassion. Perhaps he wouldn’t live long enough 
for that. 

The old woman stretched a bony finger toward the fire. 

“Look. The flames are turning green. They’re on their way.” 


Margaret spat in the fire and didn’t reply. Susanna called him to 
the window. He peered out. A canoe was coming along the path, 
carried by three men. 

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6 . 

They rested the boat against the wall of the barn and sat down 
under the awning to get their breath back. Joseph recognized their 
faces, dirty from their long journey. Bodies wrapped in layers of fur, 
hunting knives in their belts, long-barrelled Kentucky Jaegers: bear 

“Don’t forget that your mother doesn’t want them in the house,” 
said Susanna. 

Joseph left without replying. 

When they saw him they saluted him brusquely. They were 
chewing tobacco, or pemmican. 

“The oldest of them spoke first. He used the Mohawk tongue. 

“Greetings to you, Thayendanegea.” 

The bald, bony head, with the big flapping ears, protruded from 
the beaver fur like a tortoise’s head from its shell. He hadn’t shaved 
for many days. On his face, baked by the sun and harsh weather, his 
beard grew bristly and gray. 

“Welcome to my home, Henry Hough.” 

“You remember my brother John?” 

The young man grunted an incomprehensible greeting. He was 

Henry Hough pointed to the other man: “Daniel Secord is one 
of ours as well.” 

“May God protect you, Joseph Brant, and protect your house.” 

Secord appeared to be the same age as the younger of the two 
brothers, thirty at most. The Seneca amulets around his neck and 
wrists were a sign of vanity and superstition. 

Hough raised an iron hook, showing the furs that hung from it. 

“Your wife will be able to make you a jacket for the winter.” 

Joseph accepted the gift and sat down with them. 

“What brings you to Canajoharie ?” 

“Daniel took a job. Reconnoitering the springs that rise around 

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3 1 

Lake Onondaga. On behalf of a fellow who wants to make some 
money. We’re going with him.” 

Joseph ran a hand over the furs, soft and gleaming. 

“You didn’t choose the shortest way.” 

“We passed this way to hear the latest news. Strange rumors are 
circulating. That the colony is in a mess. That the Bostonians plan 
to attack Canada.” 

“They’ve taken Fort Ticonderoga.” 

Hough nodded without changing his expression. His two 
companions merely stared at the Indian, with the neutral expressions 
of people who pay little heed to misfortune. 

“Things are getting serious,” Hough observed. “What do they 
intend to do in Albany?” 

Joseph wanted to leave. He struggled to speak. 

“The militia was set up on the orders of the rebels.” 

Hough seemed to study those words, as if they had come from 
the Scriptures. 

“You can sleep in the barn,” said Joseph. “Don’t show your face in 
the house or my mother will curse you again.” 

The younger man opened his eyes wide. 

“So the old girl’s still alive!” 

The elder brother gave him a kick that sent up a cloud of dust. “A 
bit of respect, you son of a bitch.” He turned back to Joseph. “You’re 
a generous man, Joseph Brant.” 

He came back to them at sunset, with an oil lamp, rum, beer and a 
pan of stewed meat. He watched them eating in silence, sprawled 
on the straw, drinking in great gulps as their eyes turned red and the 
alcohol burned their guts. 

Henry Hough had put on a worn three-cornered hat to protect 
his scalp from the cold of night. His long, scrawny neck stretched 
toward the food. He looked absurd yet unsettling. 

“What do the warriors think?” 

“They know the settlers want our land,” Joseph replied. “If they 
attack us we’ll have to fight.” 

“A thorny problem for your friends in the Department.” 

The younger brother belched and wiped away the drops that 
flowed from his mouth. 

“If any peasants need bumping oft, you can count on my rifle.” 

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3 2 


The elder brother glanced at him grimly. 

“Johnny meant that we’re loyal subjects of King George.” 

“You don’t even know who King George is,” the younger brother 
spluttered, trying to hoist himself up from his straw bed. “You’re 
only saying that because that bastard brother-in-law of yours is with 
the rebels.” 

He got a bowl in the face and crouched down like a whipped dog. 
“In a sense Johnny’s right,” Secord broke in. He had been silent 
until that moment. He looked less drunk, more stiff than the other 
two. The pendants to ward off the evil eye jangled when he lit the 
big cigar that nestled between his fingers. 

“With the greatest respect, who has ever seen the king?” he went 
on. “He’s on the other side of the ocean and he leaves us alone. On 
the other hand, down in Albany, there are thousands of them. If 
they take command of us they’ll want to take all the land. First the 
Mohawk’s land, then the Johnsons’, and finally ours as well.” 

Henry Hough gestured toward his partner, then turned back to 

“There’s a brain that’s working properly. There aren’t many people 
down our way who think like that. Bear it in mind, Joseph Brant.” 
The Indian stayed silent. Night had fallen over the farm and 
over the valley: a heavy, moonless night that choked the land of his 
forefathers. He looked beyond the river. New fires glowed in the 
distance, outposts of the imminent future. 

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7 . 

The face of Johannes Tekarihoga, the sachem of the Tortoise clan, was 
a thousand-year-old rock, the cracks of his eyes carved by a skilled 
chisel. The aged warrior proceeded impassively along the forest path. 

Joseph walked beside him toward Johnson Hall. Without 
noticing, he ran his palm over one cheek. He wondered whether 
time would work on his face in the same way. 

Joseph liked the old sachem. He had been a brave fighter and a 
fair and trustworthy authority in the controversies surrounding the 
Mohawk nation. He was also one of the most convinced supporters 
of the alliance with Johnson and the English Crown. A man of 
few words: serving as his interpreter was like solving an oracle. It 
required imagination and resourcefulness, talents that Joseph had 
in abundance. 

He had not been back to the Johnsons’ stronghold for months. 
Almost a year had passed since Sir William’s funeral. It wasn’t easy 
to get used to the absence of the superintendent, the great patriarch, 
Warraghiyagey. Now more than ever, when times were growing 
difficult and decisions more weighty. 

The Indian Department had invited Tekarihoga to discuss the 
rebellion. Tittle Abraham, the sachem of the Fort Hunter Mohawk, 
would also be coming. 

His mind returned to the road. It wasn’t far now, just a few miles’ 
walk through the forest. After hours of silence, Joseph felt the need 
for a human voice. 

He turned to the sachem. “What can we expect from this meeting ?” 

Johannes Tekarihoga went on walking, with a broad, rhythmic 
stride. Minutes passed. The reply came in a murmur. 


Joseph noticed the merest hint of a smile in the man’s immobile 

* * * 

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The long avenue up to Johnson Hall was swarming with activity. 
Servants and workmen were transporting earth, logs, sacks. Indians 
and Highlanders mounted guard at the entrance to the avenue. 
Further on, the dwellings of the slaves, sundrenched. Children 
who were little more than infants rolled around among dogs and 
chickens. Black women were preparing food, chasing after children, 
pounding laundry. Toward the end of the avenue, other Indians 
and Scotsmen mounted a second, more solid guard, leading to the 
entrance of the main building. 

Even after many years, Joseph was impressed by the great facade, 
by the number of windows, by the appearance of the wood that 
looked like white stone. For a long time it had been the home of his 
sister Molly, for almost twenty years governess and companion to 
William Johnson and mother of his last two children. Sir William 
had not forgotten them in his will: he had left them land and goods 
in abundance. 

Joseph, too, owed much to the Irish baronet: Sir William had 
cared for him since boyhood, he had made him study, he had taken 
him on as interpreter to the Department. 

On the steps leading up to the main entrance an elderly black 
man was waiting, dressed in old cloth livery. With a nod of the head 
he indicated the adjacent building, the one that Sir William, years 
before, had rechristened the Office. 

Before entering, Joseph turned toward Tekarihoga, who stared 
back at him, as mute as he had been on their journey. Joseph thought 
that the Tortoise could not have had a better representative. 

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The harvest of gifts was ample. Tekarihoga could consider himself 
satisfied, all the more because it was a difficult time for trade and 
commerce. Especially paints for face and body. Mirrors of all styles 
and sizes, carved or decorated with stones of various colors. A barrel 
of molasses and another of dried meat, because the stomach was 
equally honored. Woollen jackets, warm, hard wearing and well 
tailored, much better than the fur ones. Chewing tobacco of the best 
quality. Wampum necklaces. A big cow’s horn full of gunpowder. 

The main hall of the Office was very large. Sober decoration: a 
big central fireplace, benches and seats along the walls, an impressive 
table at the end, where Sir William used to sit. Hanging from the 
walls were portraits of the Johnsons, along with geographical maps, 
a long-standing passion of the Old Man. 

The Department was fully represented. 

Sir John Johnson, son of Sir William’s first wife, was leaning on 
the long table, not sitting in his father’s place. 

On his left, a belly protruding from a seat with broad wooden 
arms, Guy Johnson, Sir William’s son-in-law, chosen by him as his 
successor in the job of Superintendent of Indian Affairs. 

A few feet further to the right, Daniel Claus, with frowning brow 
and arms folded. The German had made his fortune by marrying — 
he, too — a daughter of the patriarch and becoming superintendent 
of the Canadian Indians. 

Opposite them sat Captain Butler, a rival of the Johnsons in the 
fur trade, but their loyal ally in politics. An old comrade-in-arms of 
Sir William, and a great expert on the Northwest Territories. An 
important nexus in the web of power that William Johnson had 
woven with a great deal of patience and strategic skill. 

Little Abraham, a sphinx sitting beside his own pile of gifts, 
added a different brushstroke to the picture. Joseph and Tekarihoga 
sat down next to him, on comfortable chairs. 

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3 6 


With a wave of his hand Sir John invited Guy Johnson to do the 
honors. The superintendent cleared his throat. 

“Brothers,” he said, turning to the sachems, “Thank you for 
coming at such a delicate moment for our community. When 
decisions urgently need to be made, the opinion of wise experts is 
like rain on scorched earth.” 

He waited for Joseph to translate, then continued in a more 
agitated voice. 

“We have definite information that the colonial militia intends 
to kidnap me and demand concessions in return, inflicting an 
unbearably humiliating defeat on all of us. The roads of the county 
have become dangerous for those of us who have always declared 
loyalty to King George. Everything tells us that the rebellion is no 
longer only local to Boston. Since the taking of Ticonderoga, the 
Whig militias have controlled internal shipping between New York 
and Montreal. We risk remaining isolated.” 

Joseph finished the translation, and Tittle Abraham and 
Tekarihoga exchanged a meaning glance. The sachem of Fort 
Hunter was considered one of the best orators of the Tonghouse, 
and his words were eagerly anticipated. Not least because no one 
knew what his thoughts were on the matter of the rebellion. 

“The concerns of the English brothers are also ours,” he began. 
“No one can enter the Longhouse, threaten a friend of my people 
and walk out the door like any old guest. Upon my arrival here, I 
was met by twenty warriors from our village showing their rifles. 
The dwelling of Warraghiyagey is a place very dear to the Mohawk, 
second only to the sacred fire of Onondaga, and as such we plan to 
defend it. Another twenty warriors are already on their way to Guy 
Park, because Guy Johnson Uraghquadirah is our superintendent 
and we have promised to honor him forever.” 

Once the translation was over, everyone expected Little Abraham 
to go on talking. Instead he sat back in his chair, a sign that he had 
finished, and it was Guy Johnson’s turn to break the silence once 


He thanked the sachem for his words, for his esteem and fidelity. 
Then, with all due care, he tried to make him understand that they 
weren’t enough. 

“The news that concerns me is like a leaf burning in a flaming 
forest. Pouring water on the leaf will not put out the fire. If it 

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concerned only Guy Johnson, his family would be enough to defend 
him, without having to trouble men like Tekarihoga and Little 

Little Abraham understood English and intervened without 
waiting for the interpreter. 

“Brothers, we are talking about a burning leaf, but no one has seen 
the flames. For that reason I have asked for a meeting with Philip 
Schuyler. He is the nephew of the man who brought Hendrick to 
London and his words carry great weight with my people. If he gives 
us a promise that no one will harm our superintendent, that promise 
may be wind that blows the smell of fire from our valley.” 

The sachem’s words were intended to be reassuring and Joseph 
tried to translate their intention, but the wind that blew among the 
white men smelled like a thunderstorm. A meeting between Little 
Abraham and the rebel general certainly wasn’t good news. 

Captain Butler asked to speak. When a discussion threatened to 
lose its way, it was always he who put it back on the right track. 

“Little Abraham is right,” he said. “It is always good to check the 
rumors carried on the river, and none of us would have brought 
the sachems here without first doing so. Similarly, no one doubted 
that he would help us to defend Johnson Hall and Superintendent 
Johnson. And anyway, there are other fires. Farther away, but not far 
enough to leave us in peace. The smoke and flames from Lexington 
and Boston are clearly visible even from here. The words spoken by 
Ethan Allen at the taking of Ticonderoga are spreading by word of 
mouth. Talking to Philip Schuyler might be a good idea, but his 
promises cannot extinguish such big fires. The Mohawk will have to 
decide how to check the threat before the flames come and scorch 

“In other words, brothers,” interrupted Sir John, who until that 
moment had listened in silence, “what we want to tell you is that 
wars have the unpleasant habit of forcing you to choose sides.” 

Silence fell. Guy Johnson blushed with embarrassment. Joseph 
didn’t translate Sir John’s words, aware that the two sachems had 
understood very well. 

Without moving a muscle, Tekarihoga began speaking the 
language of his forefathers, in a low, singsong voice. A few seconds, 
then he broke oft. Little Abraham closed his eyes. It was the sign of 
his agreement. 

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3 § 


Silence filled the room, while everybody, one after the other, 
turned to look at Joseph, waiting for his translation. He allowed the 
silence to become solid, a material that kept them at once united 
and divided from one another. What had Tekarihoga said? “If my 
house burns, my neighbor is in danger.” Not enough for the white 
men. The meaning was : “If my problem risks involving other people, 
it isn’t good to solve it alone. You have to consult everyone, starting 
with those closest to you, inform them of the danger, hear their 
point of view. Work out whether they’re willing to help you.” A 
remarkable weight for a few words to carry. 

Joseph spoke in a serious, firm voice. 

“Brothers, the wise and noble Tekarihoga greets and thanks you 
all. He shares your concern about the news we have received, and 
about the gathering clouds. The lands and goods that we share are 
tempting to many. We know from experience the greed of certain 
settlers. The fact that some of the children have decided to rebel 
against their English father is a misfortune. When brothers threaten 
one another with weapons and aim them at their fathers, it is always 
an evil, one that is to be avoided. That is why Johannes Tekarihoga 
says that it is very important to warn the Oneida, younger brothers 
of the Mohawk, our neighbors in guarding the eastern door of the 
Tonghouse, before the fire takes everyone by surprise. If the threat 
against Guy Johnson is the leaf that burns in a flaming forest, that 
threat does not apply only to us. The Six Nations must know of the 
risk to their superintendent.” 

Joseph let the words float around the room, while Tittle Abraham 
and Tekarihoga smiled faintly to show their appreciation of the 

The white men exchanged glances. Joseph sensed mistrust. Since 
the beginning of the rebellion, the Oneida had been an enigma. Their 
preacher, Samuel Kirkland, was a supporter of the Whigs. Joseph 
knew him well: as boys they had studied together at the charity school 
in Tebanon. Sir William had always seen him as a troublemaker. 

It was Guy Johnson’s turn to put a brave face on things. 

“The sachem’s wise words have always been welcome to us. What 
Tekarihoga says is quite right, and we will contact the other nations, 
the Oneida first of all. If my brother Joseph will be so good as to 
write the message in Mohawk, the honorable sachems will be able 
to add their signatures.” 

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Joseph congratulated himself. In the presence of the white 
men, even the noblest sachems counted for little without a good 

Written at Guy Johnsons, May 1775. 

This is your letter, you great ones or sachems. Guy Johnson says 
he will be glad if you get this intelligence, you Oneidas, how 
it goes with him now; and he is now more certain concerning 
the intention of the Boston people. Guy Johnson is in great fear 
of being taken prisoner by the Bostonians. We Mohawks are 
obliged to watch him constantly. Therefore we send you this 
intelligence, that you shall know it; and Guy Johnson assures 
himself, and depends upon your coming to his assistance, and 
that you will, without fail, be of that opinion. He believes not 
that you will assent to let him suffer. We therefore expect you in a 
couple of days’ time. So much at present. We send but so far as to 
you Oneidas, but afterward, perhaps, to all the other nations. We 
conclude, and expect that you will have concern about our ruler, 
Guy Johnson, because we are all united. 

Johannes Tekarihoga 
Little Abraham 
Joseph Brant 
(interpreter to Guy Johnson) 

Joseph read this missive out loud, translating the text, trying to 
reproduce its formalities and civilities. 

English was a rougher, more concise language ; in the journey from 
eyes to mouth the words shrank, leaving part of their significance on 
the page. In the language of the Empire, every cause was followed 
by a consequence, to every action there was a single corresponding 
purpose, to every action the most appropriate reaction. On the 
contrary, the language of the Mohawk was full of details, run 
through with doubts, refined by constant adjustments. Each word 
stretched and expanded to capture every possible meaning and ring 
in the ear in the most consonant manner. 

In the letter, the sachems and Joseph appealed to the Oneida as 
elder brothers; the words were chosen to reconcile the positions of 

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4 ° 


the Mohawk of Canajoharie and Fort Hunter; the expectations and 
certainties of Guy Johnson were described in such a way as to confirm 
the friendship between him and the Mohawk without giving rise 
to any doubts about the latter’s independence. Guy was called only 
by his name, without the addition of anything else, no flattering 
phrase to adorn his reputation. Although Sir William was never 
mentioned, the Oneidas would understand that a favor was being 
asked of them in his memory. Hence the final sentence: Joseph had 
written and rewritten it until he found the right tone, with which 
even Little Abraham would be satisfied. The younger brothers were 
being put to the test: what decision would they reach? Would they 
follow the inclinations of their Presbyterian reverend or come to 
the aid of the Mohawks, who were protecting Warraghiyagey’s heir ? 
The call for unity of the Six Nations was balanced on an orderly 
heap of nuances. The English language had scattered four fifths of 
them. What remained persuaded the white men. A messenger was 

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The Delaware stopped and sniffed the air. 

“The dog is near at hand.” 

The white man smiled. He nodded to the others and stepped forward, 
eyes plumbing the depths of the forest. Now that he thought of it, he was 
aware of the smell of bear fat. The savages used it to make a disgusting 
ointment to protect themselves against insects. Their guide, on the other 
hand, so as not to interfere with his sense of smell, had adopted the 
remedy in use among the settlers : smearing himself with mud. 

The forest opened up into a clearing, the light struck the ground. 
The men were dazzled. 

A shadow darted between the branches, about a hundred yards 
ahead of the group of hunters. The white men glimpsed it: the 
Delaware was already running in that direction. 

Someone shouted. They launched themselves in pursuit. 

Their prey clambered over shrubs and fallen branches, hurled 
itself across the clearing. Penetrating the forest was the only way for 
it to save its skin. It broke through the vegetation with the agility of 
a deer, but tall grass and uneven ground slowed it down. 

The Delaware ran to the spot where the trees thinned, shouldered 
his rifle and took aim. A shot struck the air. The savage darted out 
of the cloud of smoke. 

The troop of hunters saw him disappearing among the trees. They 
walked on to the place where the forest had swallowed him up and 
found him standing there, motionless by a big tree trunk. 

The guide raised his rifle to the sky and uttered a shout of 
triumph. At the base of the tree lay their prey. The Mohawk, naked 
to the waist, clenched his teeth. He clutched his calf with hands that 
were soaked with blood. His sweat-drenched limbs trembled. 

The white men rejoiced and tied up the wounded Indian. The 
first huntsman searched him and found what he was looking for: a 
folded piece of paper in the handle of the captive’s knife. 

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After a quick glance he turned back toward the others. 

“Damn, it’s written in Mohawk!” 

Nathaniel Gordon shook his head. That’s what comes of 
educating savages, he thought. He wondered what the next thing 
would be. A monkey reciting the Psalms ? 

He squatted down and held the sheet in front of the wounded 
man’s eyes. Fresh blood dripped between the Mohawk’s fingers. The 
flies had started swarming. 

“Read what’s written on it, you dog!” 

The Mohawk said nothing. 

Gordon nodded to the Delaware, who took out his knife and 
made a cut on the prisoner’s arm. He lifted a flap of skin, pulled it 
away, set it aside. 

The Mohawk quivered, but didn’t make a sound. The white man 
roared with fury. 

He waved the paper in front of the Indian’s nose again. 

“It’s an order from the Johnsons, we know that much. What does 
it say?” 


The Delaware made a fresh cut. Another piece of skin came away, 
this time from the chest. He set it down next to the first. He would 
turn it into a tobacco pouch. 

The Mohawk hissed between his teeth. 

“Speak!” the white man snarled. 

One of the others stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. 

“There’s no rush, Nat. We should let the Indian get on with it.” 

The white men sat down a short distance away, to drink from a 
bottle, while the guide finished his work. In the end, Gordon got up 

“A waste of time, for heaven’s sake.” 

He whistled to the Delaware. 

“That’s enough. We’ve done what we had to do.” 

The Delaware wiped his hands with a handful of leaves and 
pointed to the tortured Mohawk. 

“Big man,” he said. 

The head huntsman looked first at the Delaware, then at the 
Mohawk hanging by his feet. He was still alive. He was panting, 
choking on the blood that ran into his nostrils from every part 
of his flayed body. Not a single scrap of skin remained. His 

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inverted face, his eyes below his nose, was as alien as the face 
of an animal. 

“Big man, eh?” 

The white man walked over and spat on the lacerated face. 

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10 . 

It’s the same dream, always. The church, the coffin. Peter plays the 
violin, Joseph grips his tomahawk. A warrior helps him dig. 

Now I recognize him. Ronaterihonte. 

The earth is hard. Blood pours from his broken nails, the earth 
grows wet. Every drop is a scarlet leaf. 

The church disappears. In its place, a forest of maples in autumn 
splendor. Sitting on a rock, William blesses the efforts of Joseph and 
the warrior with a smile. His face is painted and he holds a tortoise 

I walk over, sit down on his knees, stroke his lips. 

“Who’s in the coffin, William?” 

He replies, but in an unknown language. A mountain wind 
carries his words away. A canoe appears on the river. Beside it, a girl. 
William comes up and holds out his hand to me. 

“Come into the Garden with me, my love, come to the middle of 
the Water.” 

Joseph and the warrior load on the coffin, the canoe goes back 

All of a sudden I find myself in the flat in Canajoharie, above the 
general store. 

I shake the girl’s hand. Her eyes are the color of the river. 

The children are sleeping. I am about to wake up. 

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11 . 

A rare prey, in the Mohawk Valley. 

The hunters thanked their good fortune. 

The reddish skin shone in the sun, pearled with droplets. 

The animal, up to its ribs in the water, lifted its head. Its muzzle 
streamed with water. Huge ears, downward-facing nostrils: it had 
the astonished expression of a massive mule. An impressive trophy 
spread from its forehead, as wide as a man’s open arms. 

The moose looked around, sniffed the air. One of the hunters 
wetted his finger with saliva and tested the wind. The breeze had 
barely changed direction. 

The animal shook itself, turned its hindquarters and made off. 

The old men said that the moose runs faster than any hunter, faster 
than a horse, but man runs for longer than any animal. The moose 
gallops as long as its heart holds out, but every now and again it has 
to stop and rest. Instinct warns it that the hunters are still on its trail, 
but it has to stop again, and then again, more and more often. With 
each stop the hunters get a little closer. Each time the moose starts 
running again, it gets slower. More and more uncertain. It isn’t easy 
for such a big animal to shake people off its trail. Men can maintain 
the same pace for a whole day. The moose, exhausted, will await the 
knife as a liberation. 

In the afternoon the clues became more frequent. The moose 
sought the depths of the undergrowth, leaving visible marks. The 
young wolves lengthened their strides. 

Further on, still hidden from sight, the prey stopped running. It 
raised its muzzle to the sky and uttered a gloomy cry, ready for the 
last battle. 

The hunters stopped on the edge of the clearing. The moose 
appeared, less than forty feet away from them. Protected by the 
shadows, Paul Oronhyateka pulled the trigger. 

Behind the cloud of smoke, the animal collapsed. 

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The hunters ran toward it. They surrounded the body, a little 
crowd attending a funeral. 

“We thank the Tord for favoring us with a good hunt. Tet us 
give the blood of the moose, our brother, to the spirits of the earth, 
just as the Master of Life has always to be pleased with us. May the 
spirit of the moose be placated: its flesh will keep our people alive. 

The oldest warrior bent down, knife in hand. From the animal’s 
sliced throat a stream of blood drenched the earth and the men’s 

1Cg f' 

“Find a place to butcher it, Kanenonte.” 

The others squatted down, supporting themselves on their long 

Someone drank fresh blood. Someone filled the pipe. Time 
passed. Oronhyateka got to his feet. At that moment Kanenonte 
appeared beside him. 

His eyes were open wide. He was foaming at the mouth with fury. 
He was trembling. 

In the room the women formed a circle. In the middle were Molly 
Brant and an older woman, dressed in a skirt and a fire-red blanket. 
Between the two, a bundle of cedar branches was burning on a tray. 
What had been tree became smoke, thin spirals rising toward the 
ceiling without encountering drafts. 

The woman in red collected the twigs, drew a circle with her right 
hand, murmured something. Molly voiced the most important 

“Who is inside the coffin?” 

“I repeat what I have already said, Molly Brant. I believe that 
Warraghiyagey is not satisfied with his funeral. He is going up the 
current to return to the island of his forefathers. Now he is in the 
real world, he sees things that we don’t see.” 

Molly noticed that the smoke was reflected in the mirror. 
She brought her eyes to the reflection in the glass, then to the 
incandescent tips of the branches. The smoke quivered, as if filled 
with a breath of wind. The woman with the twigs closed her eyelids. 
Molly nodded. 

“Send your oyaron to question him, Molly Brant. Your dreams are 
powerful; Warraghiyagey will speak again.” 

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Molly nodded. Suddenly a buzzing noise arose outside. It was like 
the sound of a river when the current quickens before it cascades. 
Before Molly had a chance to reply, the murmur had exploded into 
cries of rage and horror. 

In the middle of the crowd, young warriors were stamping their 
feet, their muscles trembling, their arms raised to the sky, they 
brandished knives and hatchets. The young men’s legs were black 
with congealed blood. All around them, older men echoed their 
cries. They wept, shout, roared curses. Their voices were wounding 
to the ear. 

The thing at the warriors’ feet was offensive to the eye. The thing 
at the warriors’ feet had once had human features. The body of 
Samuel Waterb ridge was now a flayed prey, left to rot on the ground. 

Molly knew death, obscene and cruel, but she had never seen it in 
the place where life is preserved. Not dragged into the middle of the 
village, not displayed so that young men could promise themselves 

Molly entered the circle of furious bodies. 

Around her, voices quietened. To her ears there came the panting 
of the warriors, the weeping of a woman. 

“This killing calls for revenge, but your voices make the heart 
bleed. Youth and rage are no excuse.” 

She paused. In that frozen time nothing moved, but eyes flashed. 

The woman continued her harangue. “A flayed body is a wound 
to the eye. Death has entered the village without a song being sung, 
without a ritual being performed. Madness passes through the 
young men’s minds. Death must leave Canajoharie.” 

The men remained silent, even the young men who had collected the 
body. The women punctuated the speech with murmurs of approval. 

Molly looked at Tekarihoga. The head of the Tortoise clan 

“Those who brought the body into the village, let them take it 
away, then, and let that which is prescribed be done.” 

The young men picked up the corpse, which was merely a scab of 
blood and dust. 

As they moved away, Kanenonte spoke to his companions 
through gritted teeth. 

“While we waste time with the old law, they’re slaughtering us.” 

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12 . 

Guy Johnson became aware of a kind of creaking noise between his 
neck and shoulder, or rather a grinding sound, as when you break 
glass or walk on gravel. Sand between his vertebrae, something was 
wrong, he had slept badly. Anxiety sent him walking around the 
house, back and forth, halfway between an animal being led by the 
bridle and a recluse trying to stretch his legs. 

Each morning he woke up and couldn’t find peace. Each day he 
felt shorter and stockier, squashed as if in a press. From one hour to 
the next his back more bent, his legs more twisted. The weight of Sir 
William’s legacy. 

The weight of Indian affairs. 

That afternoon he rolled his head all the way around, right, left, 
then chin up, chin down, and now his head tilted, left ear almost 
touching his shoulder, same operation to the right, but nothing to 
be done: something was out of place, it wouldn’t fit. 

He passed frantically from one room to the other, studied the 
windows, sat at his desk, rummaged among papers, picked up the 
letter from General Gage, got up, went back to the drawing board. 
Tried to calm his own state of mind, spilling his agitation out onto 
one of the big white pages. He drew and piled together squiggles, 
curved lines, until he sketched human figures that immediately struck 
him as sinister, ominous, presages of ruinous events. He crumpled up 
the pages, got to his feet and threw them into the fireplace. 

Guy had always loved to draw. Sadly, his drawings had been 
burned in the fire that had happened two years ago. The house 
had been struck by lightning, the flames had devoured the wood, 
the map collection, the books in the library, important documents 
about land concessions. He had had the house rebuilt in stone, and 
he and his family had moved back in, less than a year before. Now 
Guy Park was an imposing building. Since the threats from the 
Bostonians, reinforcement work had been under way. 

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From Massachusetts the clashes were spreading and the number 
of rebels was rising. There was fear of an attack on Canada, the 
undefended stronghold of loyalty to the Crown. Hence the order 
that had just arrived from Gage: mobilize, leave. Cross the border 
with able-bodied men, including Indians. 

Yeah. But how to tell the Mohawk that they had to go to fight in 
Canada while the valley was in an uproar ? 

Guy had been a boy when he left County Meath and Ireland. In 
America he had joined Sir William, a distant relative, and married 
his daughter Mary. 

He had now spent more years in America than he had in his 

And yet he remained an Irishman among Irishmen, just like the 
old man. If he tripped over a tree root or cut himself shaving, he still 
cursed in gaedhilge. When, ruminating about something, he counted 
on his fingers, he said, a haon, a do, a tri, a ceathair. The old tongue. 

And the old religion. 

Tike the old man and many Irishmen of the most recent 
generation, Guy was faithful to the Church of England. Adherence 
to the Anglican faith was a necessary condition for the cursus 
honorum in the ranks of Empire: no Papists among the trusted men 
of His Majesty. The Papists were Spain and France, enemy powers 
on both sides of the ocean. The Papists were sedition, stretching 
back over many centuries, in the closest and most riotous of the 
colonies: Ireland. 

Sir William had been born and brought up a Catholic. In 
subjugated Ireland, few of his relatives had converted to the English 
God. Part of the Johnson family had supported the Jacobite 
rebellion to put a Catholic, James VII of Scotland, on the throne. 

Beneath the bitumen that covered the hull of his soul, the old faith 
still pumped blood to his heart. Superstitions, good-luck formulas, 
recommendations to a saint, phrases from the Latin missal. 

After their defeat, the Jacobite exile had touched America. In the 
Mohawk Valley, the eastern door of the Longhouse, a community 
of Highland Scots had settled. They had become part of the broader 
community, ready to take up arms to defend it. 

For thirty years, intimate and unwritten laws governed the 
world that Sir William called Iroquireland. What Guy feared 

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5 ° 


was the breakdown of the balance between Indians and white 
men, Crown and colonies, Whig rebels and Tory loyalists. That 
breakdown would leave America in flames. Not even the most 
solid stone walls would protect his world, his family, his property 
from those flames. 

On top of that, Mary was pregnant again and the baby was due 
very soon. After all the girls, perhaps he would have a male heir, and 
now, of all times, he had to leave. Indecision gripped his innards. 
Given the worsening situation, only one person could help him. 

“Father?” said a childish voice. 

Guy, deep in thought as he was, had no idea which room he was 
in. He had been wandering like a sleepwalker. He looked around: 
he was in the library. Half-empty shelves, the backs of the few 
books saved from the fire. Esther, his firstborn, was standing in the 
doorway, twelve years of fair hair and green eyes. 

“Does your mother need something?” he asked her. 

“No, Father, Mother is well. But Mr. Joseph Brant is here, he asks 
to be received. He says it is very important.” 

Lupus in fabula. 

Joseph Brant had never come to Guy Park except as an escort and 
interpreter. Not only an interpreter, but also a bridge between the 
two communities, united by their interests and their Anglican faith: 
working with Reverend Stewart, he had translated Mark’s Gospel 
into Mohawk. And yet if you peeked beneath the veil of the Church 
of England, on one side you found Papists, on the other pagans. 
Two tribes of masked men. 

Joseph was one of the sons of the agreement created by Sir 
William, a plant grown from a graft. Viewed with suspicion by 
Indians less in contact with the white men, with fear by white men 
less in contact with the Indians. Viewed with respect by those on 
both banks who were anxious to keep the bond firm. 

The messenger had been discovered and flayed alive. Because of 
the situation, he wasn’t even able to bring a message to the Oneidas, 
the closest of the brother tribes. They were isolated. What Joseph 
related made it even more imperative to obey the order that Guy 
had received. 

Sir John had already said he wouldn’t move from Johnson Hall. 
That he would do what seemed right to him. Guy decided that he 
would leave, taking his family with him. 

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5 1 

“Joseph, my brother. If this rebellion were to turn into open war, 
what would the Six Nations do? Fight for King George?” 

“The Mohawk are well aware that the rebel sons of King George 
are the same ones who are committing injustices against them. 
People like Jonas Klug.” 


“The Six Nations are not subject to the Crown. In our language 
the word ‘subjects’ doesn’t exist. Sir William knew that. He never 
treated us as subjects, only as allies.” 

“Sir William did everything possible to protect the Indian 
brothers from the settlers who are threatening your lands. He did it 
in the name of the king.” 

“My people will never forget that. But anyway, Sir William is no 
longer here.” 

Guy nodded bitterly. 

Joseph went on: “To persuade my people to unbury the hatchet, 
Warraghiyagey would have requested a council. He would have 
spoken in Mohawk. After lengthy discussions the sachems would 
have accepted, in spite of the suff erings caused to the Six Nations by 
the war twenty years ago. We lost courageous men, we lost Hendrick, 
and we didn’t get much in exchange. We would have fought not for 
the English king, but for William Johnson.” 

“I’m the superintendent now,” replied Guy. “I’m a Johnson. My 
wife is Sir William’s daughter, and she is expecting a baby who might 
be a boy, an heir in the direct line of Warraghiyagey. I don’t know 
Mohawk, but I can speak in a council, with your help.” 

“I’m the Department’s interpreter. If a council is held in Johnson 
Hall, I will do my job.” 

“Not here in the valley. It would alarm the rebels. It would supply 
a pretext for a sudden attack. We have to unite the Six Nations many 
miles away. In Oswego.” 

Joseph waited before replying. He looked out the window. 

“That’s many days’ travel.” 

Guy followed the Indian’s eyes. “Oswego is at the center of the 
Tonghouse. The Nations will participate in large numbers. You are 
a war chief, persuade your people to come. This rebellion is the 
most serious threat that the Mohawk and the Six Nations have 
ever faced.” 

Joseph seemed to meditate on the last sentence. 

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5 2 


Guy did not reveal the true reason for his choice. Oswego was 
on the way to Montreal. General Gage was asking for troops for 
Canada. If the council went as he predicted, Guy would be leading 
an Indian army. 

He couldn’t tell Joseph that. 

His neck went on creaking. 

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13 . 

The echo of hammer blows, the ring of nails entering wood. 
The scrape of saws, banging beams. Gouges carving and planes 
smoothing. Work songs, shouts and curses. 

Joseph went down to the river. Tittle fires spread the smell of 
pitch through the spring air. He reached the young men of his clan 
and asked Kanenonte for a report on the preparations. 

“We’ve repaired seven boats. The others are falling to bits.” 

Someone lit a pipe and offered it to him. Joseph took a puff. 

“It’ll take at least twenty. What do you need?” 

“Planks,” replied Oronhyateka. “We have enough left for three 
boats. And barrels of paint, at least thirty. And boxes of nails, all the 
nails in the valley.” 

Joseph reassured him. A column of logs had been passing through 
Canajoharie’s sawmill for several days: there would be no shortage 
of basic materials. As to everything else, Molly was expecting a cargo 
from New York. He asked if there was anything else, then rose to his 
feet and took the road leading to the general store. The sounds of 
work followed him down the slope. 

For months he hadn’t seen so much activity around the jetty. Since 
the closure of the port of Boston, the bad air blowing in from the coast 
had been stifling trade. Anyone who earned his living as a boatman was 
left high and dry, and the boats rotted on the banks of the Mohawk. 

News had come in about Oswego. A council. The opportunity to 
listen to illustrious speakers, to meet friends and distant relations, 
reestablish alliances, celebrate births and marriages. Parties, rum, 
games of chance. Even more important: gifts. For the Department, 
bringing the Indians together meant showing their muscle, and 
without abundant gifts, even Sir William’s son-in-law risked 
looking puny. The message had to come through loud and clear: the 
storerooms of Johnson Hall were always full, at the disposal of Guy 
Johnson’s loyal friends. 

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The council meant business. Oswego was the most important 
port on the Great Lakes, a land of milk and honey, grain and salmon, 
where the English ships had never stopped docking. 

In Canajoharie even the wealthiest families were now drawing on 
their stores, and the new harvest threatened to be poor. The smoke 
from the sacrifices didn’t awaken the Three Sisters. Corn, Bean and 
Squash were tired and Saint John seemed deaf to their prayers as 

They were short of tools and seeds. They were short of rifles and 
ammunition. Fur sellers didn’t earn enough, and if they raised their 
prices they could keep their goods and die of hunger in the heat. 

It hadn’t required too much effort for Joseph to persuade his 
people. Many had taken the departure as the promise of a milder 

Reaching the general store, Joseph found the door locked. He 
knocked in vain several times, then sat down to wait, while the 
anxiety of leaving flooded his thoughts. 

A long and tiring journey. A hundred and fifty miles huddled in 
the boats. At night, damp blankets and clouds of mosquitoes. 

Sir John would stay with his family in Johnson Hall. Guy Johnson 
brought to Oswego his daughters and his pregnant wife. For his 
own family, Joseph was considering a different plan. He didn’t want 
to have them with him, but he didn’t want to leave them at the farm 
either. With so many warriors away, the valley was unsafe. They 
could go to their Oneida relations, eighty miles to the south. To 
Oquaga, a wealthy village far from the disturbances. 

The touch of a hand interrupted his thoughts. Joseph understood 
and turned around without giving a start. Molly was quieter than 
a falcon. Some white men swore they had seen her changing into 
a woodpecker, taking flight and then settling again a little further 
away. Impossible, Joseph replied, my sister likes to walk. 

She certainly hadn’t left the shop to go for a walk. 

“They’ve confiscated the cargo from New York,” she said. 
“Yesterday morning, just outside Fort Hunter.” 

“Who told you?” 

“One of the boatmen. He managed to find a horse and rode all 
the way here. If you want to talk to him, he’s still at the inn.” 

“There’s no need. I’ll gather the warriors together and we’ll go 
and get it all back.” 

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“You know Guy Johnson,” Molly replied. “He’ll want to pay for 
another cargo instead. He doesn’t want any problems before we 

“Another cargo could take weeks, and we need the hardware for 
the boats right now.” 

“I can get hold of something so we don’t have to stop work. 
You’ve got a more important task.” 

Joseph remained silent. 

“The dream is getting clearer and clearer,” said Molly. “The 
warrior who’s digging with you is Ronaterihonte.” 

Joseph stood open-mouthed. He hadn’t heard that name for ages. 
“You’ve got to go and call him. He’ll come to Oswego with you.” 
Joseph spread his arms in disbelief. “With everything that needs 
to be done ? It’ll take us days to reach his cabin.” 

“It’s the dream that wants him. The women agree.” 

“He doesn’t obey dreams.” 

“But my brother does. You’ll be able to convince him.” 

Molly untied a wampum bracelet from her right wrist. 

“Bring him this,” she said. “He won’t be able to refuse.” 

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14 . 

The outlines of things were visible, illuminated by the first suggestion 
of dawn. A table, two wooden benches, the andirons by the fire, 
the trunk. The rhythm of their breathing was a calm backwash. He 
became aware of the smell of the bodies under the bearskin, the 
warmth of his wife and daughter. 

The echo of long-ago awakenings. In the wooden shelter the man 
was alone. His wife and daughter were no longer there, killed by the 
thirst for blood that had swept the frontier many years before. 

Since then he slept little and always awoke before daylight. He 
got up without a sound. He glanced askance at the picture of the 
Virgin, cut from a French almanac, a gift from his old teacher, Father 
Guillaume. The artist had given the Madonna vaguely Indian features. 

He picked up a book from the table, wrapped himself up in a 
blanket and went outside. The sky was pink and blue. The mist rose 
patchily from the ground, made denser by the morning half-light. 

The sun was high in the sky when three figures emerged from the 
scrub at the end of the path. The man stopped sharpening his knife 
on his leather belt and picked up his rifle. Tately the forests had 
become dangerous again. Few of the isolated settlers still relied on 
their aim to defend themselves and their property. Many of them 
had built palisades, but the man wasn’t a settler and had little to 
defend. His rifle was enough. 

He recognized the visitors and lowered his weapon. 

“Ronaterihonte, I am your brother,” one of them said. 

The man responded to his greeting. 

“I, too, am your brother, Thayendanegea.” 

Joseph Brant introduced the others. 

“Yourememberjacob Kanatawakhon and August Sakihenakenta.” 

The two warriors greeted him with brief nods of the head as they 
rested their rifles on the ground. 

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“We’ve been traveling for two days,” said Joseph. 

The man opened the door. 

“Come in. I’ve got some stewed venison.” 

Joseph contemplated the interior of the log cabin: the blackened 
wood seemed to have been born from the earth. A plank laden 
with books ran across the wall. He recognized L’ingenu by 
Voltaire, the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, the Bible and 
Rousseau’s Emile. Titles that came from New York, bound in 
expensive leather. 

Philip Tacroix Ronaterihonte wasn’t a seasonal hunter: he lived 
in the forests even in winter. For more than ten years he had forced 
himself into a retreat unusual for an Indian. 

Joseph stared at his old comrade-in-arms. Since he had made that 
choice, shortly after the end of the war, their boyhood friendship 
had faded away till it survived only in memory. He wondered what 
was left: a thread as thin as a horsehair. He still didn’t understand 
why Tacroix had appeared in his sister’s dreams. 

“It’s Molly who sends me.” 

“How is she ?” 

“She’s in good health. She left Johnson Hall and opened a general 
store in the village.” 

“And her children?” 

“They’re growing up. Peter is a man now. I already take him 

“And yours?” 

“Mine are growing up, too. Susanna is a good mother.” 

Joseph picked up one of the bowls that Tacroix had filled with 
meat. Jacob and August thanked him and started eating without 

Tacroix was still leaning on the mantelpiece. His hair fell on his 
shoulders like crow’s wings. A carved wooden cross hung on his 
chest. His face betrayed no emotion. His resolute features could 
have belonged to an Indian or a half-breed, perhaps to the bastard 
son of a coureur de hois. His age was difficult to guess, although 
Joseph knew that they were contemporaries. 

“Did you know about Massachusetts ?” 

Tacroix didn’t reply. 

Joseph gestured to indicate the northeast. 

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“The English Whigs have assembled an army to fight their 
king. They call themselves the New England Volunteers. They are 
besieging Boston and are about to wage war on Canada.” 

August and Jacob had served themselves again, without saying a 
word. That was why Joseph had chosen them: they were alert and 
discreet. He could trust them. 

“The Albany settlers support the rebellion. There’s a risk that 
they will attack the valley. Spies and assassins are on our trail. A 
messenger that we sent to the Oneidas was killed. Flayed alive.” 

Joseph waited for the hunter’s reaction. 

“Why did you come?” asked Tacroix. 

“Guy Johnson wants to call a council. To ask the Tonghouse to 
join forces with the king.” 

Tacroix threw another dry branch on the fire. 

“You said Molly sent you.” 

“Yes. She had a dream.” 

The other man nodded, as if waiting to hear it. 

Joseph held out the wampum bracelet. 

“She told me to give you this.” 

Tacroix held it in his hands and stared at it for a long time. The 
white and black shells formed rhombuses and moons around a 
wolf’s head. A gilded button stood out from the weave. It came 
from a French army uniform: the uniform of a drummer boy. 

Joseph knew that this object was the pledge of adoption into 
the Wolf clan. It had been woven by Molly, for the boy that the 
French priests had christened Philippe Tacroix. The Mohawk had 
given him the name of a dead man, Ronaterihonte, “Keep Faith,” 
and a widowed mother to look after. The bracelet represented new 
life, the life that Molly had given him when she rescued him from 
the warriors’ vendetta. Joseph clearly remembered that day, even 
though he had been a little boy. The day of Hendrick’s death and the 
wound to Warraghiyagey’s side. The battle of Take George had won 
William Johnson his baronetcy. 

Philip had learned the language very quickly: at the mission 
where he had grown up there lived many Caughnawaga, who spoke 
a dialect similar to Mohawk. He and Joseph had received their 
warrior’s initiation together and fought side by side until the end of 
the conflict, like young wolves. Once the war was over, Sir William 
had encouraged Joseph to study and settled down with his sister. 

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Philip had taken a wife, and they had had a daughter. A brief period 
of serenity. 

After the tragedy, he had done some terrible deeds. Since then 
Huron and Abenaki called him Le Grand Diable. 

One day he had introduced himself to Molly and, without a word, 
had presented her with the wampum bracelet, giving up the life that 
had been given to him, and had moved to this cabin in the woods. 
He returned to Canajoharie a few times a year to sell furs, watched 
with fear by those who had known the war, and with reverence by 
the young men who were attracted by his legend. 

“Molly says it’s time for you to return to the nation. She says that’s 
what the dream means.” 

The hunter sat down on a worn old chair, still staring at the shell 

When Lacroix looked up, Joseph felt a twinge of unease. “We 
will leave with the new moon. The council will be held in Oswego.” 

He had delivered the message. Now he was anxious to return: 
the journey to Oswego was not far off and there was still much to 
be done. 

He gestured to Jacob and August to get up. 

“We’re going back. Thanks for the food.” 

When they were standing in the doorway again, Joseph turned 

“Molly will want to know your answer.” 

Lacroix nodded again. 

“Tell her I wish my dreams were as clear as hers.” 

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“We received the Game from the Master of Life, at the beginning 
of time. Our forefathers played it as God had ordained and we still 
play it that way ourselves.” 

Johannes Tekarihoga gestured broadly with his right hand. His 
arm and shoulder, naked, were still strong. His body, wrapped in 
a dark blue cloak edged with shells, was six feet tall. The players 
joined their hands at heart-height and lowered their heads. The old 
man went on, followed by all the others. 

“Our father who art in heaven. . .” 

The old sachem concluded the prayer, raised his head and 
exhorted the players with a few words. 

“Play hard, but fairly. Don’t lose your heads.” 

The field, the only uncultivated one, sloped gently toward the 
Mohawk River, not far from the groups of houses that formed the 
village. Two teams occupied it, about thirty men on each side. 

Peter Johnson thought that one detail contradicted the old 
man’s assertions. The Master of Life, at the beginning of time, had 
ordained that they should play baggataway naked and in war paint. 
But here everyone’s legs were covered by leather leggings, and some 
players wore shirts. 

And furthermore, at the beginning of time no one would have 
recited the Lord’s Prayer. 

Tekarihoga half-closed his eyes, whispered a few words and threw 
the ball in the air, right into the middle of the contenders. 

One of the clubs struck it full on. The warrior uttered a long cry, 
then a cacophony of shouts invaded the playing field. The factions 
mingled, a single vibrating mass, a running horde. 

The ball fell back down quickly, soon joined by the crowd of 
players. A wild affray broke out. Wood against wood. Wood against 
bone. At last the object of contention was dislodged from its lair of 
limbs and impelled at great speed toward the goal. In a mad dash, 

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Peter reached the fugitive and knocked the head of his club against 
the deerskin globe with all his might. The shot was spectacular, if 
badly aimed. The ball traveled a long, tense trajectory to the forest 
rim. The players hurled themselves forward, waving their clubs, but 
noticed a presence at the edge of the playing-field. The group slowed 
down, the voices faded away to silence. 

The man bent over the ball, which had rolled to his feet, and 
threw it back toward Tekarihoga. Even so, play didn’t resume. The 
players looked as if they were under a spell. 

Peter glanced at the old sachem: he nodded solemnly. 

Molly was waiting with her arms folded, standing in the doorway 
of the emporium. A short distance away were some curious 
women with babies in their laps or slung in bundles around their 

The womans eyes flashed. She was waiting for him. 

“Greetings to you, Degonwadonti.” 

“Greetings to you, Ronaterihonte. Come in, the water is boiling 
on the fire.” 

Molly ordered the servant to make the tea, then invited Philip 
to sit in a black leather armchair, high-armed, comfortable and 
luxurious. For a long time the hunter’s bottom and back hadn’t 
rested against anything so soft. There was something sensual, almost 
obscene, about how comfortable it was. Tacroix abandoned himself 
to its embrace. He let his spine adjust, let his elbows fall inertly on 
the curved, gleaming wood, his buttocks and thighs sink in without 
tension. Some vague, dreamy minutes passed before the smell of the 
tea woke him. He found himself holding a saucer and a steaming 

“Sugar ?” asked the servant. 

“Yes, thanks.” Sugar. No idea whether his tongue remembered 
the taste. 

The servant finished her task and left. 

The man and the woman took their first sips. The tip of Philip’s 
tongue said welcome back to the flavor of liquefied sugar. The 
welcome was a hearty one; his whole mouth performed an elaborate 
ceremony. Philip couldn’t help sighing. An untameable beast, 

After a few minutes of silence, Molly spoke. 

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“It was not I who summoned you, Ronaterihonte. It was the 
nation who called you: the dreams say so.” 

Philip took another sip. The cup warmed his hands. 

“The nation adopted you and restored you to life,” Molly went 
on. “Now it needs you. In the dreams you are beside my brother 

“The dream has not yet disclosed itself; some of it is still in 
shadow. I can only tell you this: you must go to Oswego with Joseph 
and the warriors.” 

“I’m not a warrior anymore, Molly Brant. I’m not anything 

“You’re a Mohawk, and the Mohawk are suffering.” 

Molly stopped, summoned and assembled her words, inspected 
them and finally set them marching, one after the other. “Our 
name risks fading away, the jaws of time have already swallowed up 
whole lineages. Our land is being invaded and pillaged, a winter of 
hardship is about to fall upon this valley. I will stay in the village, 
because women, old people and children need me, but the future 
of the nation depends on what happens far from here. You and 
Joseph are part of it.” She broke oft and smiled. “You have to trust 
in dreams.” 

Philip stretched out in the armchair and brought the cup to his 
lips, as a whisper crept into his ears. 

Welcome back, Ronaterihonte. The circle must be closed. The journey 
must begin. 

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16 . 

“Woman of the Sky had a daughter, who was fertilized by the 
west wind. When this daughter was still in her belly, the two 
grandchildren of Woman of the Sky argued about the manner of 
their birth. Left-Hand Twin didn’t want to come out in the normal 
way. He traveled until he appeared from his mother s armpit, and by 
so doing he killed her.” 

Molly looked at Peter’s face in the mirror and ran the razor over 
his skin. The boy was sitting cross-legged, motionless, his little sister 
Ann hugging one of his legs. 

“The Twins buried their mother,” Molly went on, “who became 
Mother Maize, from whom were born Squash, Bean and Corn, the 
Three Sisters who sustain life. From her heart tobacco was born, 
which is used to send messages to the World of Heaven.” 

She finished shaving the sides of his skull. A long tuft of dark 
hair was left, held together by a red ribbon. The mirror reflected the 
image of a warrior who was young, handsome and strong. His flesh 
a fine consistency, his bones well arranged. The eyes of the nation 
could be well pleased with him. The spirits of the forefathers would 
protect him. 

“The Twins went on challenging one another. Right created the 
beautiful hills, the lakes, the flowers and the gentle creatures. Left, the 
steep gulches and the rapids, thorns and predators. Right was sincere, 
reasonable, good-hearted. Left lied, loved to fight, was rebellious by 
nature and walked complicated paths. Because Right created men, he 
is known as our Creator and the Master of Life. Never forget to honor 
him in prayer and recite the Psalms every night.” 

She fell silent and studied the boy. Sir William would have been 
pleased. His son was going to Oswego, to his first council. His hair 
braided in the traditional way, wampum belts to attest to his lineage. 
A true Mohawk, everyone would say. And educated, too, in the 
languages and science of the white men. Warraghiyagey’s true son. 

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6 4 


“Your father would have been as proud of you as I am.” 

The young man studied himself in the mirror. He turned his 
head, lifted his chin, lowered his forehead to gauge the effect. 

“Something’s missing,” he said. 

He got up, moving the little girl aside with a caress of his hand, 
and picked up the rifle. He turned to face the bigger mirror, hanging 
from the wall. With his gun resting on his foot, the image was 
perfect. The young man smiled to himself. 

“It’s a present from Uncle Joseph.” He ran a hand over his smooth, 
dark hair. “Beautiful.” 

“Are you going to hunt deer with that, Peter?” his little sister 

“Yes, and I will also defend our valley.” The young man seemed to 
reflect upon the words he had just uttered. “Who invented the rifle, 
mother?” he asked. “Right Twin or Teft Twin?” 

“Who was it, Mama, who was it ?” Ann cut in in a shrill voice. 

Molly appeared behind her son. She rested a hand on the little 
girl’s head. 

“The works of one may not exist without those of the other. You 
can’t walk in the sun without casting a shadow. And you also need 
shadows when the sun is too strong.” 

“So it was Teft ?” Peter insisted. 

“Stubborn son of mine,” Molly smiled. “You know very well that 
it was the white man’s skill that made rifles, violins, microscopes and 
the other things you like.” She frowned. “But I don’t know if it was 
God or the devil who put the rifle into the first armorer’s head.” 

“The devil, mistress, it was definitely the devil.” 

Juba had come into the room, slender and quiet. She stopped 
and looked at the young man, who picked up his little sister. Ann 
fiddled with the tuft of hair that decorated his skull. She didn’t seem 
interested in anything else. 

The black serving-girl sought Molly’s permission with her eyes, 
then placed her hands on the young man’s head and murmured 
phrases of blessing in an unknown tongue. When she had finished 
she looked again at the matriarch of the Wolf clan. 

“Bring the gift,” Molly ordered. 

“A gift ?” said Peter, freeing himself from Ann’s embrace. 

“The rifle your uncle Joseph gave you isn’t the only thing you 
might need.” 

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When Juba returned with the box, Molly took from it a violin- 

The young man gave a start. A new violin! He would have 
thrown his arms around his mothers neck, but he wasn’t a little 
boy anymore. He delicately picked up the instrument and tested its 
weight, plucked the strings, sniffed the smell of gleaming wood. 

“Music will keep you company on your journey,” his mother said. 
“You will learn new songs and lots of other things.” 

“Play the one I like!” Ann begged him. “Go on, play it!” 

Her brother needed no pleading. His bow darted and the little 
girl began swaying in time to the reel. 

Molly looked at the scene, hiding her worry behind a smile. 
Many thoughts crowded her days, as dreams did her nights. William 
had given Peter education and knowledge, but had not had time 
to initiate him into the world of war. Now it was Joseph’s turn to 
complete the work, to make a warrior of him. The time would come 
soon. Pride and fear challenged one another in the woman’s mind, 
promising each other endless war. 

Even in her dreams Peter played the violin, while William said 
something in the language of their forefathers. If only she could 
have understood those words, she would have bidden the boy a 
more serene farewell. 

A little swarm of children invaded the room, shouting excitedly. 
Peter welcomed them with open arms and let them drag him to the 

Molly watched her children struggling together and rolling on 
the floor, laughing and joking. The time for games was about to end, 
and not only for Peter. 

A shadow was falling over the valley, licking at its edges. Molly’s 
task would not be easy: guarding the land of her grandfathers, 
protecting the children of the nation as though they were her own. 

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17 . 

Joseph didn’t see who gave the signal, but the crowd began drifting 
slowly toward the river, Guy Johnson at the head of the group, 
Daniel Claus by his side. Joseph stayed aside and let the ranks pass 
him, checking that no one was missing. 

One hundred and twenty white-skinned people. The dependents 
of the Indian Department and part of the Highlanders. Ninety 
Mohawk warriors. Johannes Tekarihoga. Families with women and 
children. Thirty fully laden boats. Weapons and tools, barrels of 
powder, bars of lead and bullet presses. Provisions, sacks of corn, 
salt pork, rum. 

In the middle of the crowd, a group of women accompanied 
Mary Johnson, with her prominent belly, her hand gripping her 
sister Nancy’s arm. The little daughters clung to their mother’s skirt, 
as if they were carrying her train to the altar. The white and African 
serving girls held the straps of the rucksacks or waited apart from the 
others. Guy hadn’t want to leave his pregnant wife and his children at 
home. He wanted to have them by him, where he could protect them. 

Sir John had come to bid the expedition farewell. He shook his 
brother-in-law’s hand first. 

“Good luck. May God protect you and be with you on your 

“And help you defend our lands,” Guy replied. 

In front of many of the houses sticks were planted diagonally in 
the ground, a sign that the dwelling was empty and the spirits would 
punish anyone who dared approach. 

Outside the general store, Mary Johnson saw a small cluster of 
women parting. Molly Brant appeared, with little Ann in her arms. 
The Indian woman raised a hand in greeting. Mary felt the creature 
in her womb stirring. She brought her hands to her belly. 

Esther saw the scene. The eyes of that woman on her mother’s 
belly, the vague gesture of her hand. She felt as if she were looking 

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at a house of cards just before it collapsed. She came over to her 
mother and tugged hard on the rim of her cloak. She wanted to beg 
her father to stop, not to let everything fall to pieces, crash to the 
ground, but instead she said nothing. 

The procession passed in front of Molly, who watched motionless 
from the veranda. When Joseph climbed the steps, Peter appeared 
beside him. The young man was kitted out for the journey in a 
leather jacket, powder horn at his side and rifle over his shoulder. 
Molly looked at her son with resignation, stroked his young face; 
the caress became a grip upon his tuft of hair. Peter gritted his teeth. 
Molly let go of him and turned again to Joseph. 

“Tead him wisely.” 

They hugged. 

The boy kissed his mother and came down to join the others. 
His eyes shone. Philadelphia and his years of study were nothing 
compared to the adventure that awaited him. 

The last to receive Molly’s farewell was Philip Tacroix, at the rear 
of the column. He replied with a nod of his head, with no need for 

Joseph noticed three motionless figures on the edge of the slope. 
Susanna had brought the children to say good-bye to him. 

He touched them once each on the forehead, a sort of blessing to 
protect them from the evil of the world. 

Isaac’s eyes gleamed. Tears barely contained, an expression of fury. 

“He wants to come with you,” said Susanna. “Some people are 
bringing their families,” she added quickly. 

Joseph understood the veiled request and his features hardened. 

“You will be safe in Oquaga.” He stroked Christina without 
managing to smile at her, then looked at Susanna. 

“Take care of your mother.” 

He turned around and went down to the pebbly bank, where 
Butler and his son were directing the embarkation. As the men 
climbed aboard, the boats left the banks one by one. On the last 
boat were Joseph, Tacroix, the Butlers and the loyal members 
of the Wolf clan. They all clutched poles and oars and steered 
the boat into the middle of the river. The way to Oswego began 
against the current, going up the Mohawk. Seventy miles to 
Fort Stanwix, the first major staging post, halfway through the 

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Joseph watched the lazy wake of the boat and thought about who 
was leaving and who was staying. The sun pierced the clouds. Every 
element of the landscape was drenched with rain. The men’s limbs, 
the wood of the Tonghouse and the cabins, the fields of rye and 
corn, the gardens of beans and pumpkins. He watched the line of 
chestnut trees that ran down the gentle slopes that led to the first 
loop of the river. Teafy cedars, lofty larch-trees. Everything faded 
from sight behind them. 

Reverend Stewart said that reciting the Our Father closed off all 
breaches through which the temptations of the Devil might enter. 
Nothing bad could happen if the Ford’s Prayer occupied the mind; 
travails would be confronted in a state of grace. Few took Stewart’s 
advice literally, but there on the water the words of the Our Father 
came to the lips of the white men and the Indians. Joseph closed 
his eyes and raised his head toward the sky. It was filled with rays of 
light. He asked God to protect his family. 

On the banks, the settlers witnessed the exodus of the Canajoharie 
Mohawk. The children waved, the adults watched with disdain. 
Joseph guessed that for many of them, seeing the Indians leave came 
as a relief. 

The flotilla advanced, impelled onward by the poles and oars. 

Joseph remembered this journey clearly. He had made it on other 
occasions, with Sir William. First to make war on the French, and 
then when the superintendent had gone to sign the peace between 
the Crown and the great chief Pontiac. 

Where the sandy waters poured into the Mohawk, shallows 
and rocks choked the current, forming impetuous rapids. Several 
times they would have to take to the land, dragging the unloaded 
boats from the shore with thick ropes. To round the rocky 
precipices of Tittle Falls they had to load the boats onto their 
shoulders, climb through the woods for half a mile and then 
return to the water. 

Joseph wasn’t fearful for himself or for his companions: many of 
them had earned their living as boatmen. He thought of the women 
and children, who had never left home for so much as a day. 

Guy Johnson turned to look for his wife and daughters. Two boats 
further back, Mary was standing motionlessly aboard, her eyes fixed 

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on the little girls nestling at her feet. Nancy and the servant girls 
were on either side of her. 

Guy glanced at Daniel Claus, sitting beside him, one of the few 
who knew the real reason for the journey. He brought a hand to 
his jacket pocket, where he kept the letter from General Gage. A 
hazardous risk: first deliver the obvious declaration of loyalty to 
the king from the sachems, and only at that point chain them to 
their duty as allies. He would display the order received by King 
George s highest representative in America and lead the warriors of 
the Six Nations into battle. He would show that he was a match for 
Sir William. 

He listened to the silence, broken by the sound of the oars and 
the shouts of those in charge of the boats. One thing was certain: 
the river of life was leaving its old bed to flow in a new direction. 

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18 . 

Off they went. The Johnsons with servants, guards and savage 
friends. The devil alone knew where, and yet it wasn’t important. 
At any rate it was a big moment. Judging by the preparations, they 
would be away for a while. Klug felt a space opening up in his chest, 
as if a stone had been lifted from his sternum. He took a sip of beer 
and rum and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. 

He looked out the window, toward the river. His view was 
obstructed by a line of poplars. Behind it, the lands of troublesome 
neighbors. He imagined a valley without Indians, without wealthy 
Papists who had formed a compact with the nobility. Just honest 
working people. People like him. 

His arms, back and legs still hurt. His bruises had passed from 
intense blue to red to yellow. And his feelings had changed color, 
too. He planned to denounce Brant and the other savages. The 
lawyer had reassured him: the signature was extorted, it wasn’t 
worth a thing, the judges were bound to speak in his favor. 

Klug thanked God. Reasonable people, the judges, at least in 
the colony of New York. Not like in Tondon, where there was 
actually one who had taken it into his head to free the negroes. 
And the negroes knew it. The rumor ran from one farm to the 
next. You heard them chewing meaningless words, singing those 
refrains of theirs that might well have been hidden messages. They 
were passing on information, they were making arrangements 
to escape. If they set foot in England, they would become free 
men. And that was what they tried to do. They really escaped. It 
had already happened to Windecker, to Deypert, to Dr. Heyde. 
Cutting everyone’s tongues out, that was the way to solve the 
problem of the negroes, when what they had to do was break their 
backs, not deliver sermons. 

Klug shook his head. And the Tories ? What did they have to say 
about it? Didn’t they have slaves, too? 

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7 1 

Klug felt hatred welling up in him. It was time to put a stop to it. 
Those people had given the signal. The king’s army blocked the ships 
in the ports, stuff being confiscated, if anyone tried to say anything 
they threw them in jail. The Bostonians had the right idea. The 
loyalists were shot and thrown into the sea. 

The Johnsons would buy the savages off with rum and drive them 
against other white men, against other Christians. No, you couldn’t 
stand and watch, put out the red carpet, say make yourselves 
comfortable, just get on with it. 

Klug made his decision. He would go to the next committee 
meeting. He would tell them what the savages had done. The next 
time they tried to touch him, a heck of a lot of people would pick up 
their rifles for Jonas Klug. 

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19 . 

The men from the Department spent dinner sitting in a semicircle, 
too tired to speak. They had been sailing for ten days and all of their 
faces showed the strain of travel. At sunset the convoy had camped 
on a steep riverbank, set up their tents and lit their fires. A little 
cluster of heat and faint light, rooted to trees and rocks. 

Food and rum restored their strength. When Cormac McLeod 
reached the group, the smoke of pipes and cigars had already joined 
the smell of campfires. 

The Scotsman wore a grim expression. He filled a dish and began 
to eat. “How’s your wife, Mr. Johnson?” 

“Not too good,” Guy replied. “The journey is exhausting us.” 

As he lit the pipe, Joseph Brant studied the Irish gentleman. 
The fat that filled his clothes was less pronounced, and his face was 
reddened by the sun. 

“I wonder what position the Oneida will take,” Guy Johnson 
added, as if he wanted to dispel his anxiety about his wife. 

“They ’ll come to the council, but they won’t side with us,” Claus 
observed irritably. 

“You can bet on that,” Butler added. “They’re cowards. They may 
well have handed your messenger to the rebels,” he said, making an 
abrupt gesture with his hand. “They will act the innocent, and so 
will the Onondaga and all the others. But if you offer them more 
rum than those damned Whigs and give them all the gunpowder 
they want, they’ll soon be behind you, you’ll see.” 

Johnson was about to reply, but McLeod interrupted. 

“I’ll just be happy to get to the council safe and sound.” 

“What do you mean?” 

The Scotsman glanced at the darkness covering the trees. 

“These forests aren’t safe. A convoy of boats is an easy target.” 

“You’re afraid of an ambush?” 

“The rebels could have bought one of the local tribes.” 

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Guy Johnson turned to Joseph. 

“What does our interpreter think?” 

The Indian shook his head. 

“No one will do anything before the council.” 

“So that’s what you’ve heard, old chap?” Butler cut in. “It’s a bit 
early to start worrying about your scalp.” 

The Scotsman hunched up, wrapping himself in a blanket. 

“I’ll feel safer once we’re past the Great Portage.” 

Joseph noticed that Peter was listening carefully. He got to his 
feet and gestured to the boy to follow him. They would take the 
first watch. 

He led him to the old warriors’ fire to receive Tekarihoga’s 
blessing. They too were sitting in a circle and smoking. Some, 
already defeated by sleep or rum, were snoring under the stars. The 
old sachem was one of them. 

They walked on to the outpost manned by Kanatawakhon and 
Sakihenakenta. Joseph told them to go and rest. Before they left, the 
two warriors pointed to a dark outline under an old willow tree. Peter 
went on the alert, but his uncle motioned him to look after the fire. 
Tacroix was a shadow sniffing the air. 

“What is it?” Joseph asked as he joined him. 

“We aren’t the only ones lighting fires.” 

He pointed to the tops of the trees. Joseph could just make out a 
thread of pale smoke, barely distinguishable, less than a mile away. 
“Hunters ?” 


Joseph went back to the campfire. Peter had made black tea. They 
drank in silence, holding the steaming cups to warm themselves. 
“Uncle Joseph?” 


Peter nodded toward the shadow under the tree. 

“You’ve fought together, haven’t you?” 

“Your father led us into war. We were your age.” 

“And then?” 

“His wife and daughter were killed after the war. Since then he’s 
withdrawn into the woods.” 

“Why do they call him Te Grand Diable ?” 

Joseph knew they would have to answer that question sooner or 
later. All the young warriors were still struck by Tacroix. 

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“It’s a name given to him by his enemies. They tell stories about 
him. He took his revenge on his own.” 

For a while the crackling of the fire was the only sound. 

Then Peter asked a question that Joseph hadn’t expected. He 
stayed silent, looking at the bottom of his cup as if he would find 
the answer there. 

At last he said, “Yes. He’s my friend.” 

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20 . 

Three weeks later the convoy was within sight of Fort Stanwix. 
Joseph had passed that way seven years before. He had gone with 
Sir William to sign the most important treaty. The sachems and the 
representatives of the Crown had established the border beyond 
which the white men were not permitted to settle: the River 
Unadilla, from Fort Stanwix to Pennsylvania. 

Joseph remembered the size of the fort at the top of the 
embankment, the four ramparts and the palisade around it. Hard 
to imagine a log construction so solid and imposing, but the British 
garrison had left some time ago. A few winters of abandonment 
had weakened the pride of the place: the terraces were rotting, the 
casements were collapsing, the bulwarks were sliding into the ditch. 

The convoy would stop off' there for a few days. The boats were 
taking water. Stuffing straw into the joints was no longer enough; 
they needed pitch and paint. Some of the provisions were wet, 
and they would have to do some hunting and fishing. They would 
need to renew their strength and spirit before they set out for the 
Great Portage, along the muddy mule track that in four miles 
led to the other side, from the waters of the Mohawk to those of 
Wood Creek. 

Beyond the plain lay Oneida territory. A delegation climbed to 
the fort to welcome Guy Johnson and guarantee a large presence at 
the Oswego Council. 

Guy hurriedly organized a welcoming committee, made up of 
Daniel Claus, Joseph Brant and Peter Johnson. 

In the approaching unit Joseph recognized the sachem who 
had celebrated Sir William’s funeral. Shononses. His presence was 
an unexpected event. Ten warriors escorted him. He wore very 
expensive clothes and had birds’ feathers tied to his single lock of 

“I am your brother, Uraghquadirah,” he said. 

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To welcome him in the proper manner, Guy Johnson had dusted 
oft his red uniform with gold braid. 

“I, too, am your brother, Shononses. We are honored by your 

Joseph showed oft his elegant clothes and walking stick. He 
received the warriors’ salute. 

“The river brought news of your arrival,” the Indian chief 
continued. “Before we left for the council ourselves, we came to wish 
you a safe journey. The river says that Le Grand Diable is with you.” 

“Yes,” Guy confirmed. 

A murmur rippled through the ranks of the Oneida. 

“You remember Warraghiyagey’s son,” he added. “Peter Johnson. 
It’s his first council.” 

The Oneida greeted the boy. 

“Where is Le Grand Diable?” asked Shononses. 

Joseph nodded to Guy Johnson and went down toward the river. 

Lacroix was sitting with the young warriors. They were cleaning 
their rifles and filling their horns with black powder. 

“The Oneida sachem has come to greet you. He wants to meet 

Lacroix stood up. 

“Don’t sit with the Oneidas,” hissed Jethro Kanenonte. 

“Don’t trust them,” echoed Oronhyateka. “They’re afraid of you 
and they will flatter you like girls. Don’t go.” 

Joseph pointed the pommel of his stick. 

“Hold your tongue.” 

The young man didn’t lose his composure, but assumed a 
provocative tone. 

“Joseph Brant knows the Oneidas are treacherous. It was they 
who sold their Samuel Waterbridge to the rebels, and they’ll do the 
same with us. They have no honor.” 

“Shut up,” Joseph snapped. “My wife and my children are 
Oneidas. The Oneidas are our brothers. I don’t want any problems 
until the council.” 

The warriors fell silent and began cleaning their weapons again. 

Joseph and Lacroix walked away. 

Shononses launched into a long panegyric on the late Sir William, 
as if he had to be buried all over again. They were offered food 

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and drink, as Claus improvised a welcome speech, which Joseph 
carefully translated. He couldn’t bear the German’s accent, it was 
like being whipped in the ear with a feather. 

The Oneidas had brought wampum belts, beaver skins and 
multicolored blankets. Guy Johnson swapped them for gunpowder, 
knives and rope. Only after the gifts had been exchanged did 
he confront the matter at hand. He spoke of the unity of the Six 
Nations, the importance of the council, the need for reciprocal aid 
between the Mohawk and their junior Oneida brethren. 

Joseph thought the speech was good, but it was missing something. 
He thought he spotted a movement, a familiar silhouette. The 
ghost of Sir William was sitting around the fire with them. He was 
listening to them and observing them curiously. 

Shononses agreed about the need to remain united but stressed the 
neutrality of the Oneida. A conflict between Englishmen could not 
concern his people. The sachem’s reply left everyone discontented. 

Guy Johnson didn’t seem impressed. “Even at the time of the 
Franco-Indian War the Oneida came here and declared themselves 
neutral,” he murmured in Joseph’s ear. “And yet Sir William did 
convince some of them. They even had themselves baptized.” 

It was time for tales of war. The stories mingled with the smoke 
that rose until it lost itself in the faint light of dusk. 

Joseph looked again for the specter sitting at the edge of the 
circle, beyond the flames, but he didn’t see anything. If Molly had 
been there he could have questioned her, asked her advice. 

Later, at sunset, he found himself strolling among the ruins of the 
fort. In the last light from the west the crumbling bastions were the 
skeletons of giant beasts. 

Among the groups of men camping there he saw some Oneidas 
staggering cheerfully. McLeod was pouring rum from a cask. When 
he saw Joseph he smiled and struck his chest. 

“They’re already on our side.” 

Joseph walked on, only to bump into Captain Butler. 

The Irishman pointed at the impromptu tavern: “In the end, 
whoever has the most rum wins the war. The rest is just nonsense.” 
He mimed a fluttering bird with his hand. 

The hand accepted the cigar that was offered to him. Butler bent 
to pick up a twig from the nearest campfire and held it out to Joseph. 

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“Are you also sure that it’s all going to turn out for the best?” 
Joseph remained silent. White men tended to ask questions and 
answer themselves, for the pleasure of hearing their own words. 
Butler took a few puffs and continued: 

“If the Oneida pull out, persuading the other Nations is going to 
be a major undertaking. Especially the Seneca, I know them well. 
They’re a tough bunch and they hate the English, but they’re the 
only ones who can marshal a thousand warriors.” 

Joseph thought that the old officer was right. Beyond the outer 
circle of the fort, the night was becoming impenetrable. 

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21 . 

The warriors stopped on the riverbank. Some of them trod on the 
muddy bottom. The water coming from the mountain had shrunk 
to a trickle. 

Joseph exchanged a glance with Sakihenakenta. He turned 
toward Tacroix, who was staring at the forest on the opposite bank. 

“What’s happened to the river ?” Peter’s voice asked behind them. 

Joseph said nothing. He needed to think. 

They had gone in an advance party, to open the track for the 
expedition, which was about to cross the strip of land between the 
Mohawk and Wood Creek. That place was Deowainsta, the Great 
Portage of Canoes. Four miles of forests, their belongings on their 
backs, the boats dragged on wooden sleds. It would take them at 
least two days. And without the river they would be stuck. 

“ We could go down until we find water,” suggested Sakihenakenta. 

Joseph shook his head. 

“It’s too hard with this load.” 

If they came back with the news that there was no water to sail 
the boats, many of the men would give up the journey and go home. 
Joseph couldn’t allow that. 

“It isn’t the dry season. A river doesn’t vanish overnight.” 

Tacroix pointed to the mountain. 

“But logs and mud can take it away for a long time.” 

Peter began climbing the stony bank. 

“Then let’s find it,” he said. 

The solution to the mystery came an hour later. 

A mill. The indolent waters of the river slid into the half-full basin. 

Someone was splitting wood on a log, to the rear of the building. 
The warriors approached cautiously, without a sound. 

It was a short, squat man with a thick beard and a curious hat 
of piebald fur, white and brown. Suddenly he stopped, rested 

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his ax and bent down to pick up his musket. He aimed it at the 

“Who are you? You aren’t Oneida.” 

Joseph raised his hand in a sign of greeting. “We are Mohawk 
from Canajoharie, and we’re going to Oswego with a convoy of 

The man grunted and narrowed his eyes without lowering his 

“Then you’re here for the river.” 

Dutch accent, myopic eyes. 

Joseph nodded. “The mill belongs to you?” 

The miller gave a grunt of agreement and looked askance at the 
other warriors. 

“My name is Jan Hoorn. It’ll take another half day to fill the 
millpond, as God wills. Where are you camped?” 

“Fort Stanwix.” 

“Then you needn’t worry. By the time you’ve completed your 
portage, the river will have been full again for a while. Tell the 
men down there.” He leaned on the log without lowering his rifle. 
“I’ll give you a good price. Three shillings a boat. I can also do you 
gunpowder, salted meat, flour. No rum. A barrel of that swill isn’t 
worth a mouthful of my beer.” 

Jethro Kanenonte said something in Mohawk, pointing at the 

Joseph turned back toward the miller. “He says you’re stealing the 
river. And I think he’s right.” 

The Dutchman grunted again. 

“The water in the river comes from the river. The water in my 
millpond is my water. My father’s father acquired this land with a 
regular contract, in the year of our Tord 1701. My family has always 
lived in peace with the Englishmen from the fort and the Indians. 
My brother married an Oneida. We’ve never had any problems with 
anyone, as God wills.” 

Peter interrupted violently. “What’s to stop us opening the sluice 
without your permission?” 

The miller shook his head. “It would do you no good. When the 
river is dry you have to accumulate enough water to flood the bed 
all the way to the valley. We collect it in the millpond, set the wheels 
in motion and try to measure out just enough for the boats to sail. 

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If you open the bulkheads now, all of a sudden, you’ll manage to 
sail round the first loop in the river, but then you’ll find yourselves 
high and dry again.” He pointed to the mill basin. “Not enough, 
you see?” He lowered his rifle and sat down on the log. “How many 
boats have you got?” 

Joseph took a piece of tobacco from his bag and offered it to the 


The Dutchman snapped up the tobacco and talked with his mouth 
full. “Four pounds, special price. Nearly two crowns’ discount.” 

“A deal, Mr. Hoorn.” 

The Dutchman twisted his mouth into something that was 
supposed to be a smile. 

“As God wills.” 

“You’ll have to sign a receipt for the Indian Department.” 

The miller looked at the piece of paper and the little pencil that 
Joseph was holding out to him as if they were bewitched. He picked 
up the pencil stub and traced a big X on the page. 


Kanenonte smiled, pointing at the man’s headgear. 

“Funny hat,” he said in heavily accented English. 

The miller took it oft and stroked it with his hands. 

“ Ya, ya, old Guus.” 

The Indian offered his knife in exchange for the piebald hat, but 
the Dutchman plonked it crossly on his head. 

“No sir. They’ll have to kill me to get this oft me. He was the best 
hunting dog I’ve ever had, yes sir, I loved him.” 

Joseph studied him: perhaps he was older than he looked — 
knotty hands, few teeth, poor eyesight. 

“Do you live alone here?” he asked. 

The Dutchman nodded. 

“My brother and his wife got the fever, three years this September. 
But a bear killed old Guus on me last winter.” Again he touched the 
strange hat, from which two soft ears flapped. “It was a real shame, 
because he kept me company, and it was just as if he understood. Yes 
sir, he understood everything I said to him, as God wills. The bear 
opened him up from side to side, poor Guus spilled his guts all the 
way home. Giving him that death-blow was hard for me, but there 
was nothing more to be done. Before burying him I skinned him 

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and with his fur I made this hat, to remind me what a great dog he 
was. Yes sir. And now here I am running this mill all on my own.” 
The man seemed to remember something. 

“Is it true that there’s a revolt?” 

The Indians fell silent. 

“A war could break out,” Joseph replied. 

“Another one ? I hope it’s against Massachusetts this time. Worse 
than the French, those guys. Always talking about God, but if they 
can cheat you they’ll be more than happy.” He spat on the ground. 
“Not that the people in Albany are any less disgusting. As God wills, 
I’ll keep the mill and they can kill each other as much as they want.” 
Joseph smiled. Peter gestured to him that the Dutchman must 
be mad. 

Joseph noticed that Tacroix was staring at the trees around the 
mill, his chin raised slightly. He went over. 

“Tet’s get back,” said Tacroix. “This forest isn’t safe.” 

Peter shivered. His mother sometimes spoke like that. Phrases 
that hinted at some threat that was indistinct but all the more 
frightening for it. All of a sudden he wanted to get away from there. 

He had been the first to go up, and he was also the first to come 

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22 . 

Two days later, Peter was carrying sacks of flour to the collection 

The forest was a stretch of barrels and wineskins, boats and 
men, muskets and oars, bags of flints, powder horns, boxes of nails, 
ironware. The embarkation had not yet begun and the atmosphere 
was heavy with tension. Peter set the sack down on the ground and 
stopped to get his breath back. The porters silently overtook him, 
each concentrating on his own task. The last boats would be back in 
the water by midday. Uncle Joseph had already gone down to Wood 
Creek, to check that it was flowing again. With him he had brought 
only Lacroix. The warriors’ arms were needed for transport. 

Peter wiped away his sweat and studied the clearing that opened 
up among the oaks. It was dotted with white stones that peeped 
from the grass and the swamp. He saw the porters making the sign 
of the cross and remembered one of the stories that his father told 
him, the one about the five hundred fighters of Colonel Bradstreet, 
dead of exhaustion during the portage one summer day in 1758. 
After that slaughter the Crown had allocated sixty thousand pounds 
for John Stanwix to build the fort for the use of anyone who took 
that path. 

For some obscure reason, since Peter had come down from the 
mill worry had not left him. Along with that there was the thought 
that somewhere, beneath his feet, the dead were sleeping. 

He picked up the sack and wished it were much lighter. 

By the river, which was still dry, they said nothing. They began the 
climb, silent as ghosts. 

The air was sultry, heavy, and their shirts were drenched with 

At the top of the path the mill appeared in the bright noon 
sunlight. They didn’t approach it immediately; they waited for a 

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8 4 


long while, bending to study the surroundings. Joseph examined 
one detail at a time. 

The water had stopped roaring. 

Lacroix jumped to the opposite bank. They climbed cautiously 
toward the building, rifles aimed. The millpond was full of water, 
but freshly cut trees were piled up on the sluice. 

Through the wood filtered streams of cloudy water, losing 
themselves in the valley. Joseph had seen bloodstained rivers before. 
He walked over. The Dutchman was facedown in the millpond. He 
had been scalped. 

Lacroix emerged on the other side. He glanced down and crossed 

They began to move the logs, filled with silent anxiety. Joseph 
felt exposed, an easy target, as he struggled to liberate the sluice. A 
little waterfall appeared and plunged into the dry riverbed. It would 
take hours for the level of the river to rise sufficiently. They would 
have to spend the night down there, among snakes and mosquitoes, 
surrounded by a band of murderers. 

When their work was done they didn’t turn around. They should 
have pulled the body out and given it a Christian burial, but their 
instinct led them to pick up their rifles and run back down the hill. 

The two warriors at the head of the group bent over the footprints 
in the mud. The others stayed where they were. Then, without 
breathing, they fanned out along the riverbank. 

Joseph approached Lacroix and Royathakariyo, who were 
crouching on a mossy rock, their noses to the ground like 

“They disembarked here and advanced into the forest.” Lacroix 
pointed in the direction in which they had marched. “At least four 
white men. An Indian guide. They’re moving quickly.” 

The forest was dense and silent. Nothing but a fluttering of wings. 
All eyes were fixed on the canopy. 

Joseph had spoken to Guy Johnson and the other men in the 
Department. If someone was following them, they had to find out 
who it was. They had given him the task of assembling the best 
warriors and beating the banks for trails. 

He whirled a hand over his head. The group moved on, avoiding 
open stretches. There were fifteen of them, but if there were good 
shots on the other side, that might not be enough. 

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Every so often Joseph checked that his nephew was following 
him at a close distance. Peter clung to his footsteps, as he had been 
ordered to do. The boy was trembling, intoxicated by the company 
of the warriors. Beside him was Walter, the son of Captain Butler; 
by his father’s account he was an excellent marksman. 

They covered about half a mile. Royathakariyo and Tacroix 
squatted down behind a rock, the straps of their rifles running 
across their backs. The others sought shelter among the ferns. 
Joseph smelled Peter’s scent behind him and glimpsed the tip of his 
rifle. He motioned to him to stay where he was and crept on until 
he reached the boulder. Royathakariyo pointed down to where the 
land ran steeply downward. 

There were five of them, walking in single file. The guide was a 
Delaware. He was wearing Jan Hoorn’s piebald hat, with the floppy 
ears on either side. 

Joseph turned quickly toward the warriors and saw Kanenonte 
shouldering his rifle. He crept over to him and gripped the barrel 
of his gun just in time. Guy Johnson had been clear: don’t rise to 
provocations, don’t give them excuses to attack us. Not before the 
council. Discover who they are, how many they are, and return to 

Joseph said everything without speaking, but the men under him 
were aware of something, and they stood apart from one another 
and raised their weapons. The Delaware’s eyes scanned the slope. 
Joseph and Kanenonte remained motionless, listening to their own 
breathing. The unit began marching again and disappeared among 
the foliage. 

Kanenonte looked straight into Joseph’s face. 

“They must die.” 

“There might be others. The shots would summon them.” 

The young warrior put the gun back over his shoulder and 
prepared to follow the white men. 

“Tet them come. Before sunset we will wash ourselves in their 

Oronhyateka came up alongside his friend. 

Joseph knew that if he let the two young men go the others would 
follow them. 

“It isn’t the time to fight. The day will come, but it isn’t here yet.” 

Kanenonte could barely contain his fury. 

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“Do you want to wait for them to surprise us in our sleep?” 

Joseph looked again at the grim faces. Royathakariyo seemed 
inclined to go into battle. Peter was in the middle, his eyes darting 
from one face to the other. Walter Butler looked on expressionlessly. 
He had grown up in his father’s school and wouldn’t retreat. He 
waited for the group’s decision. 

Joseph stood firm. He imagined himself as solid as a tree, fastened 
to the ground with deep roots. He spoke his words distinctly so that 
everyone could hear him. 

“No killing before the council.” 

Oronhyateka began striding around, hissing into his ears. Joseph 
felt his breath on his face. 

“Who is Thayendanegea to prevent us ? He isn’t a sachem, he isn’t 
noble. He’s a war chief refusing to make us fight. A useless chief.” 

Joseph remained impassive. “I’ve told you once before, be careful 
how you speak.” 

“Am I supposed to be afraid of you? Just because you fought in the 
war ? I say too much time has passed and you’ve lost your courage.” 

The young man gripped his tomahawk. Joseph was about to strike 
him with the stock of his rifle, but Oronhyateka threw his weapon 
at Lacroix’s feet. 

“Let Ronaterihonte guide us against the enemy. Let him be our 
war chief.” 

The hissing stopped, the sounds of the forest resumed. Everyone 
looked at Lacroix, who was staring at the ax planted in the ground. 
He straddled it and took a few steps toward Oronhyateka. He threw 
the young man a careless glance. 

“We’re going to the council. Pick up your ax, we will follow 

No one said another word. The line of men re-formed and set 
oft on the return journey, Kanenonte and Oronhyateka bringing up 
the rear. Peter walked as if in a dream, sure that he had witnessed a 
crucial event, which he went on running through in his mind until 
they reached the camp. In front ofhim. Uncle Joseph and the Great 
Devil walked side by side. He observed their shadows darting subtly 
among the trees. He imagined they were those of the two boys who 
had followed his father along these same paths many years before, 
just as he, Peter, followed them now. He felt proud of that company. 
Proud to be a warrior of Joseph Brant, proud to be a Johnson. 

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23 . 

The boats proceeded in single file along the winding loops of Wood 
Creek. The current had become treacherous. Guyjohnson consulted 
the map, trying to protect it from splashes of water. Just twelve miles 
as the crow flies, but twenty-eight by river. The Crown should have 
financed the construction of a canal a long time ago. 

It was midafternoon. Guy thought of the clouds of mosquitoes, 
waiting for darkness before attacking them. They had already 
resorted to bear grease. The smell impregnated their skins and 
clothes; it wouldn’t go away. But now the odor was less pungent. He 
was getting used to it. 

He thought of their mysterious pursuers. Cutthroats sent from 
Albany. They had to reach Oswego as soon as possible. 

He looked at the pale, weary faces of Mary and the girls. This 
journey was the opportunity to renew the family’s fortunes. He was 
traveling the same path Sir William had followed; that couldn’t be 
a mistake. 

He clearly remembered the last time he had confronted that 
journey, the welcome that the Indians had reserved for the Old 
Man, as if he were the king in person, the Great White Father. 
Now he had the best warriors with him, the last of a great race; the 
future of his line in his wife’s belly; gifts in abundance — rum, rifles, 
gunpowder, mirrors. 

His youngest daughter, Judith, asked where the river ended. Guy 
replied that it flowed into the placid waters of Lake Oneida. On 
the surface there were dark particles that the local people called lake 
flowers. No one knew what they were. Some people said they were 
chestnut pollen, others that they were rotten algae. Whatever they 
were, if eaten they caused vomiting, fever and diarrhea. 

The little girl looked frightened. Guy stroked her cheek and said 
there was nothing to be afraid of. The lake was beautiful, it was filled 
with fish at all seasons. You had only to slip in a hook with a feather on 

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it to catch pike and trout in abundance. The salmon weighed twenty 
pounds and the flying fish had wings that would make a falcon j ealous. 

Judith looked brightly at her father. Guy went on with his story. 

They would cross the lake with sails unfurled, until they reached 
the mouth of the Onondaga River. 

“Another river ?” 

The voice belonged to Sarah, his second daughter. 

“It’s another lake. The size of a sea. So big that you can’t see land 
from the other side.” 

The children were open-mouthed. Esther, on the other hand, sat 
with her hands in her lap, straight-backed as she had been taught. 
Her skin was the color of a lily crushed between the rocks. 

They stopped in a gorge, and some Oneida fishermen offered Mary 
Johnson a comfortable shack. 

As the fire dried their clothes, the women helped Mary to lie 
down and wrapped her in blankets. 

Her sister Nancy put her nieces to bed. 

“When will we get there?” asked Judith, as she lay down on a 
woolen blanket. 

“Well soon be at Lake Ontario.” 

“And will there be lots of Indians ?” asked Sarah. 

“More than you’ve ever seen.” 

Esther wasn’t listening; she kept her eyes fixed on her mother. 

Nancy noticed the child’s fear, caressed her and made her lie 
down beside her sisters. 

“Go to sleep.” 

The little girl had green, watery eyes. 

“Are they going to kill us?” she asked calmly. 

“What’s that you’re saying? The Indians are our friends, and they 
respect your father. When we get there they’ll give us a party.” 

Esther turned back toward her mother, lying at the end of the cabin. 

“I have some thoughts.” She rested her head on the fur pillow. 
“They were sent to me by that woman, Molly Brant.” 

“Sleep, I said.” 

“She may have put a curse on us,” she insisted. 

Her aunt gripped her arm. “Stop talking nonsense, you’ll scare 
your sisters. Pray instead.” 

A whispered Our Father mingled with the crackling of the fire. 

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24 . 

Flaming backs, aching muscles, shattered vertebrae, the splitting heads 
of those who have been concentrating for too long. Even for the most 
expert boatmen the last twenty-four miles of the journey had been a 
nightmare of water and rocks. The rapids were numberless. Smooth 
Rock Rapid, the Devils Horn, the Six-Mile Rift, the Little Smooth 
Rock Rapid, the Devils Warping Bar, the Devils Horse Race and 
Oswego Rift. Not to mention the waterfalls halfway along: twelve feet 
high and making a noise that was the echo of a hundred thunderclaps. 

The convoy had avoided those, boats on their shoulders again, 
carrying the old, the injured and the sick, and a pregnant woman. 

One afternoon in late June, the three forts of Oswego had 
appeared on the horizon. In the background, the blue of the water 
met the sky. 

Fort George was a blackened skeleton, consumed by flames 
during the war. 

Not far off, the ruins of another fort, a refuge for ducks and divers. 
The parade ground housed the cabins of the Indians who had come 
for the council. In front of each cabin were weapons, scalps, war 
trophies. A vague hubbub accompanied the comings and goings of 
men and women: cries, barking dogs, shouting children, merchants 
dressed in skins, shrieking the virtues of their wares. Fires were being 
prepared to light up the night. 

Oswego meant “flowing quickly,” but Joseph’s memories were too 
dense to slip along so easily. 

It was from this same plain that the expedition against the French 
had set oft, sixteen years before. Sir William had led the siege of Fort 
Niagara: his greatest victory and a baptism of fire for Joseph and 
Lacroix. And the first time the Six Nations had fought together side 
by side with the English. 

Fort Ontario was still in good condition, even though the 
garrison hadn’t lived there for five years. Joseph had worked there as 

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9 ° 


an interpreter. In a shed in the courtyard he had seen his wife Peggy 
give birth to Isaac, his firstborn. 

“Brothers,” the voice of Little Abraham rang out around the 
courtyard, after a brief pause. “The Six Nations have been allies of 
the English King for many seasons. They are friends of the Johnson 
family, of Warragh iyagey and his successor, Uraghquadirah, who 
has been taking care of our business for a year now and has never 
given us cause to lament the fact. But I don’t think a man should 
always be dealing with his friends’ disputes. If you come and tell me 
that someone has burned your house down, I will take my rifle and 
travel with you on the river, even for many miles, for whole days, 
until you have justice. But if you argue with your son because the 
water jug is empty and come to ask my help, I will tell you: ‘Go, go 
back to your son and resolve the matter between you.’ If I followed 
you home, I would only aggravate your argument. Brothers, I think 
the Great English Father has enough authority to sort out his rebel 
children all by himself. I can’t forget that among them there are men 
like Nicholas Herkimer, Philip Schuyler and many others who have 
always respected our people, the sons, the daughters, the fathers, 
the mothers of the nation, the Longhouse and the Sacred Fire. Two 
months ago, when we were told that our superintendent risked 
being taken prisoner, we immediately sent the warriors to defend his 
house. We asked the most honorable men of the colonial assembly 
to guarantee that no one would harm Guy Johnson. Only then did 
we unload our rifles. Brothers, if the king’s lands were threatened 
by a foreign army, the Six Nations would fight to defend them, as 
they have done in the past. For each blow dealt to the Longhouse, 
the Six Nations are prepared to deal a thousand back. But this won’t 
happen today, and the friendship between the Six Nations and 
England remains a peaceful friendship, because no war has been 
declared. Brothers, I have spoken.” 

Little Abraham’s speech concluded the first round of 
consultations. Upon his arrival Guy Johnson had immediately asked 
to hear the most influential chiefs of each nation, orators capable 
of persuading hundreds of men. None of them had questioned the 
idea of loyalty to the Crown. No one had adopted a position against 
the Whig settlers. Stripped to the bone, it was the same speech 
repeated six times. The differences running through the Longhouse 

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9 1 

were concealed behind nuances of tone and vocabulary, subtleties 
that the English were unable pick up. 

The Oneida had been the least friendly. Kirkland’s preaching was 
having a profound effect. 

The Seneca stood and watched, intending to collect gifts from 
both sides. 

The Tuscarora and Cayuga followed the Seneca like lapdogs. 

The Onondaga, keepers of the Sacred Fire, had stayed midway 
between the two positions. 

Joseph waited for a nod from Guy Johnson. The superintendent 
seemed calm; his expression was firm. He got to his feet and started 

First of all he thanked the orators for their sincerity, then recalled 
Sir William, who had died the previous year, during another 
council. Finally, he recited a few phrases that were received with 
great approval, nods of the head and shouts of “ oyeh ” that echoed 
from one corner of the square to the other. Joseph shivered. They 
were the words used by Sir William to persuade the Six Nations to 
besiege Fort Niagara. They were as much a part of Oswego as the 
elms in the ancient forest and the lake breeze. Guy Johnson had 
evoked the power of the place. What the Mohawk called its orenda. 

Joseph began to translate. He could hear that the superintendent 
had touched the right cords, and tried to fill his words with all the 
energy he could muster. 

At that moment, Guy Johnson slipped a hand under his jacket 
and took out a carefully folded sheet of paper. 

“Brothers,” he continued, “I have here a letter from General 
Thomas Gage.” He waved the piece of paper and unfolded it in 
front of everyone. “The head of the king’s army informs me that 
the rebels are threatening Canadian territory. You all know about 
the fall of Fort Ticonderoga. The goal of the traitors is to subjugate 
the possessions of the Crown. They will raze the cities and empty 
granaries and powder magazines, since they hardly have any food 
or ammunition, which you still have in abundance thanks to His 
Majesty’s ships.” 

Joseph thought the argument was a good one, even though the 
Seneca didn’t like to be reminded of it. A little over ten years before, 
in the days of the Pontiac rebellion, many of them had hoped to 
do without the whites, to go back to bows and arrows. Reduced to 

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9 2 


hunger, they had had to rethink. Joseph translated, trying to make 
the concept as inoffensive as possible. He was all too familiar with 
his brothers’ susceptibility. 

“The ones you call rebel sons,” the superintendent continued, “are 
nothing but enemies of the king, just as the French were. That’s why 
General Gage,” again he showed the letter, his arm stretched above 
his head, “is ordering a military expedition into Canada. To attack 
from the north and go down to Albany, not to drag on this pointless 
conflict. No one who has just declared himself a friend of the king 
can deny him his support.” 

A nervous buzz ran through the crowd, beginning with those 
who understood English, and Joseph soon found a hundred eyes 
upon him. He hesitated, unable to repeat what he had heard. The 
orenda of words does not distinguish between languages. 

Shouts of approval rose up from the crowd, voices too young to 
understand what was happening. The adult warriors and the elders had 
fallen silent, as if someone had got to his feet and pissed out the flames 
in the middle of the courtyard. Guy Johnson’s confident smile dissolved. 

At that moment Joseph understood. The superintendent’s 
strategy was clear. To claim promises and cash them in all at once, 
thanks to an order that laid claim to warriors, not words. That was 
the real reason to call a council a hundred miles from home. To 
defend Canada, not the Six Nations. 

Joseph studied the hardened faces of the sachems and the elders. 
He met Philip Tacroix’s eyes. The Great Devil was impassive. 

Someone touched his leg and pointed to the superintendent. 
Guy Johnson had started talking again. 

“The English Crown,” he was saying, “doesn’t ask for your 
support without promising anything in exchange. At the end of the 
campaign, before the winter, every warrior will receive four pounds 
from New York. Furthermore, General Gage solemnly promises 
that, once the war is over, all the lands contested between you and 
the settlers will be restored to the Tonghouse. Any loss of land or 
goods will be indemnified in equal measure.” 

Joseph finished his translation to a silent assembly. In different 
circumstances, a similar promise would have raised roars of 
enthusiasm, but at that moment it was recognized as part of a game 
that had been fixed. It was just one more risk, to balance the one that 
had gone before. The sachems felt they had been cheated. 

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Joseph bit back his disappointment. As a war chief, he had 
spent thousands of words to convince his people. He had to show 
the muscle of the Six Nations, so the rebels would stop snarling. 
Meeting far from home, far from indiscreet ears, understandings 
and provocations, to come back in force and defend the valley. He 
had reminded them at every step, at every stroke of the oars, of the 
solid loyalty of the bond between the Mohawk and the Johnson 

In exchange, Guy had made him an accomplice in a clumsy fraud, 
to force the council’s hand. 

Joseph returned to his post. Again it was time for the sachems to 
speak through their designated interpreter. He knew that the chiefs 
wouldn’t be ruffled. Taking their time was an art that they knew to 

As he was sitting down, a whisper slipped into his ear. The voice 

“The day has come, Thayendanegea. Samuel Waterbridge will 
have his revenge. We all will.” 

Joseph felt he had no choice. 

If he didn’t want to lose face, he would have to be the first aboard 
the boats for Canada. 

He would have to speak to the doubters, in spite of everything. 

Play into Guy Johnson’s hands. 

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25 . 

The fishermens lanterns slipped across the lake and contested the 
primacy of the stars. Beyond the flames that lit up the camp, water 
and land swapped roles. The lake looked like a city and the shoreside 
villages were little fleets in transit. 

The council was coming to its end. A night of celebrations 
and then, at dawn, every warrior would choose for himself. The 
Tonghouse didn’t make decisions that weren’t unanimous, and the 
sachems had reached agreement on only one thing: accepting the 
presents of the Crown and giving thanks for the thought. 

Chants, dances, games of chance, drunken stories, interpretation 
of dreams and the comical ceremony of the Seneca shamans. 

Guy Johnson would gladly have spared himself the whole 
process. He had already done the math: two hundred warriors was 
the maximum he could expect. 

Seneca, nobody. Mohawk, fewer than one hundred, Brant’s men. 
From the other nations, scraps. Relations of the Mohawk, personal 
friends of thejohnsons, men chained by ancient treaties or recent dreams. 

Sir William would have persuaded three times as many with half 
a sentence. 

That was why he couldn’t go to his wife. He couldn’t abandon 
the ritual. He would have to show himself polite to the living and 
devoted to the forefathers if he didn’t want to get to Montreal alone. 

He had to keep the hearts of the Indians hot. 

And even more, their guts. 

Eighty gallons of rum, the powder keg of the evening. Madeira 
wine, Guy Park’s special reserve. He hoped to uncork it, drink to the 
birth of a male. He would call him William, to reinforce the image 
of a dynasty strong in life and hope. 

Nancy Claus received the woman in the antechamber. 

“God be praised, are you the midwife ?” 

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Lydia Devon held out a bony hand that reminded Nancy of a 
bird’s foot. 

“I’m Mrs. Johnson’s sister. Come. The pains have begun.” 

“For how long?” Lydia took off her overcoat and followed Nancy 
into the bedroom. 

“A few hours,” Nancy replied, betraying her anxiety. 

Mary was lying on the bed, her hands gripping the sheet and her 
face drawn. A small Indian woman was wiping the sweat from her 
forehead with a wet cloth. 

Nancy introduced her: “This is Tabby. She has been present at 
every labor.” 

Lydia nodded, set down her bag and coat and looked around. A 
clay plaster whitened with lime covered the log walls. The furniture 
was reduced to the minimum. A narrow, Spartan room, more 
appropriate to the sleep of a passing merchant than to the pains of a 
woman in childbirth. She stroked Mary’s face. 

“Be calm, my love. We’re here.” 

She turned to the other women. 

“When was she last examined?” 

“Before we left the midwife came,” replied Nancy. “She said it 
would be at least three months. We shouldn’t have trusted her, she 
hasn’t even got a diploma.” 

Nancy spoke quickly, swallowing her words. 

“My diploma is eight hundred and forty deliveries,” said Lydia, 
“not counting the four I have given birth to myself. And you, Tabby, 
have children, don’t you?” 

The Indian woman nodded. 

“How many births have you had so far, my love ?” she asked Mary. 

“Three. All girls,” she replied, her breath beginning to break. 

Lydia Devon laid a hand on her stomach. 

“It’s a little boy this time. Your belly’s pointed.” 

The midwife knelt down on the floor, rubbed her palm with 
linseed oil and examined the patient. Mary held her breath. The 
walls of the room contracted with each spasm. 

“I can feel him,” Lydia announced a moment later. The news 
was received with sighs and blessings. Mary lifted her head from 
her chest and merely groaned. “He’s lovely and big, you’ll see, and 
because it was a bit tight he’s gone skewed, he’s trying to come out 
shoulder first, that’s why it’s so exhausting for you.” She drew herself 

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9 6 


up, took the patient’s hand and gazed into her eyes. “Now, Mrs. 
Johnson, well lay you down and try to turn him. Meanwhile Tabby 
will make you a compress of black wool, brandy and pepper — you’ll 
find everything in my bag, my dear. And I’ve brought some tea to 
reinvigorate everyone. We’ll need it.” 

The men of the council had been draining drink of a different kind. 
Most of them were already drunk when Guy Johnson got to his 
feet, apologized and climbed into the saddle with the man who 
had brought him the message. The child still wasn’t born, and Mrs. 
Claus was asking for him. 

As soon as he dismounted he went inside by the back door 
and dashed to Mary’s room. A few steps and suddenly he slowed 
down, disoriented. His political obligations hadn’t allowed him 
to be present at the birth of his daughters; he expected piercing 
cries, which would fill the room like air from an organ pipe. Now, 
confronted with silence, he didn’t know what to think. 

He knocked on the door, the serving-girl opened up, then stepped 
aside, and the mistress of the house came out. 

“How are things going?” he asked. 

Nancy’s face darkened. 

“Not well, Guy. It would have been better to call the doctor 
straightaway, as we did last time.” 

Guy’s mouth twisted. “You know that Mary doesn’t want to have 
men around her.” 

“That’s why I called you. If she knew you agreed, she would, too.” 

“Fine,” he sighed. “Just tell her that you’ve spoken to me. And 
keep me informed. I have to make another appearance.” 

He was about to leave, but his sister-in-law’s voice held him back. 

“And you’re not going to tell me anything about your own 
delivery? Is there going to be war?” 

“There already is. But the sachems prefer to pretend there’s 
nothing wrong.” 

At that moment they both noticed three white figures at 
the bottom of the stairs: Guy and Mary’s daughters. Their long 
nightshirts brushed the ground. They held each other’s hands, and 
their eyes gleamed in the twilight. 

“What are you doing here?” Nancy exploded at them. “Go back 
to bed immediately.” 

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The little girls didn’t move. Sarah was on the brink of tears. 
“Mother isn’t well,” she said in a thin voice. 

Guy met Esther’s glazed eyes and shivered. He didn’t know what 
to say. He turned around and left the house. 

Nancy pushed the girls up the stairs as the youngest began to cry. 
“If you love your mother, pray for her with all the faith you can 

It was a few hours before dawn when Guy resumed his place around 
the fire. The tales of hunting and dreams were endless. A lot of 
people were lying on the grass. He studied his own face reflected in 
the glass of a bottle and it seemed deformed, monstrous. He wished 
the Old Man were there, with his wisdom, to help him deliver the 
future. He wished time could run faster. 

Now many people are in this place 

hey in this our meeting place 

it starts when two men look at one another 

hey they greet hey one another 

we greet one another oyeh 


Heyyouheyyahheyahheyah. . . 

Spectral figures danced around the fire, reddened shadows, a 
Catherine wheel of sweaty muscles and feet hammering the ground. 
Enchanted by the flames, Guy inhaled fumes of alcohol that 
arose from everywhere. Beside him, John Butler was whispering 
incomprehensible words. The chants continued uninterrupted, 
accompanied by the violins of Peter Johnson and Daniel Claus. 

Then he thought: let us make the Earth 

So that some people can work on it 

I have created it and now it has happened 

we walk on it oyeh 

and in this hour of the day 

let us give thanks hey to the Earth. 

In our thoughts that’s how it must be 
in our thoughts that’s how it must be. 

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From the other side of the circle he thought he saw dark eyes 
staring at him. Joseph Brant, or perhaps his own image distorted by 
a play of reflections. It lasted just a moment, and then the whirl of 
dancers filled the night again. 



The woman in labor was lying on a chair with a pillow behind her 
back, and a Cayuga woman was supporting her by the armpits. 
Standing in front of her, Tabby was massaging her hips, as the 
midwife tried for the umpteenth time to turn the child. 

“Be calm, my love,” she repeated every now and then. “He’s turned, 
he’s ready to come out. The pains are regular, very promising. With 
the help of Saint Anne, nature will do its duty.” 

Mary Johnson no longer had the strength to smile. Her swollen 
face, pearled with sweat, was fixed in an expression of suffering and 
resignation. Her forehead was burning with fever. 

Around the chair, the women took turns offering advice, 
reassuring memories, chicken- and-rum broth. 

“Dr. Savage is here, madam,” said a voice from behind the door. 

The midwife picked up a towel and went to wash at the 
basin. Mary gestured to the Indian to stop massaging, lowered 
her nightshirt and asked the serving-girl to bring in the new 

Once the ritual questions were over, Dr. Savage asked who the 
midwife was. 

The woman came forward. 

“Very well, Mrs. Devon. I would be grateful if you and the other 
women would carry Mrs. Johnson to the bed. May I ask you what 
she has been given so far?” 

The woman said that she had applied a poultice to the patient’s 
belly and chopped onions to her feet, had rubbed her temples with 
vinegar and given her tea and broth, half a cup of rum and one of 
syrup of Aaron’s rod. 

The doctor nodded. “Very well done, Mrs. Devon. But I fear we 
will need a more robust treatment than that.” 

He took a vial from his equipment bag, poured twenty drops into 
a spoon and approached the bed. 

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“Here you are, Mrs. Johnson. This will bring you relief. It’s 
laudanum and in a few minutes it will eliminate all excessive 
muscular tension, which is due to false labor.” 

“Forgive me, doctor,” the midwife broke in. “The labor is far from 
false, I have touched my patient several times, and . . 

Maryjohnson blushed. 

“Please, Mrs. Johnson, don’t be embarrassed. Even if it is a true 
labor, as you say, Mrs. Devon, it is clear enough that my patient 
needs to regain her strength, or her muscles will be too weak to 
endure the strain. And you, too, if you want to rest for a few hours 
and send these women back to their families, please do so. I will 
need your help later on, when the labor resumes.” 

So saying, he slipped the tip of the spoon into the patient’s mouth 
and gave her a handkerchief to dry her lips. 

Soon, Maryjohnson was in a deep sleep. 

As he did every night, Philip Lacroix met his wife and daughter. 
They walked together, in the tall grass, until they reached the front 
door. Wife and daughter went inside, and he remained on the 
doorstep cleaning his rifle. Once inside, he became aware that the 
woman was not his wife. She was Molly Brant. And the girl was not 
his daughter, but a little fair-haired girl. Molly walked toward him, 
untied a wampum bracelet from her wrist and placed it at his feet. 

“To forget, you must know,” she said. “To deny, you must also 
believe. When you received it, this bracelet had a value. When you 
gave it back, it had another. Settle the account or you will lose your 
balance. Do not come home empty-handed, Ronaterihonte.” 

The words were spoken, and the bracelet plunged into the 
ground, opening up an abyss in the middle of the cabin. 

Philip woke up drenched in sweat and feeling strangely dizzy. The 
sun was up and the warriors were sharing out the gifts from the English. 
On the shore of the lake, a fleet of boats was waiting for its cargo. 

Mary woke at four in the morning. The pains were back and a 
sudden attack of nausea seemed destined to get things moving; the 
baby would be born through her teeth. 

The woman who woke her up hurried to lift her head, slipped 
another pillow behind her back and called for reinforcements. 
Tabby got up from the chair, followed by the midwife, who was 

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resting on a few blankets. She immediately slipped on her cap, 
greased her hands and checked the situation. For the first time since 
the start of her labor Mary began screaming. Not real yells, more 
of a rosary of laments, modulated over a scale of notes from low to 
shrill. Penetrating enough to wake up Dr. Savage, who was lying on 
one of the benches in the antechamber. 

“The pains are coming very quickly,” the midwife explained, “but 
the baby can’t get out yet. Perhaps the cord is around its neck. Tabby, 
will you give me a hand?” 

The Indian woman came over and observed that Mrs. Johnson 
was wearing a necklace and that it would be better to take it off. 
With trembling arms, her back arched with tension, Mary slipped 
her hands behind her neck. 

“And no superstitions,” the doctor snapped. “If there’s a risk of 
suffocation you have to intervene.” 

He resolutely took the forceps out of his bag, ordered the midwife 
to put its jaws in place, bent his knees slightly and began to pull. 

Mary prayed, Tabby dried her forehead with a handkerchief 
soaked in vinegar, and Tydia Devon, astride her on the bed with her 
back to the patient, pressed on her belly to aid the expulsion. 

The doctor got to his feet, leaving the instrument in position. He 
was sweating. He asked them to bring him a rag, had it tied tightly 
to the joint of the forceps and instructed the midwife to pull down 
on it, as he went on working the patient’s arms. 

Tydia reluctantly agreed. She took a sip from the bottle of rum, 
crouched down and did as the doctor said. A Seneca woman drew 
signs and symbols on Mary Johnson’s belly. 

Through the odors that mingled in the room — alcohol and sweat, 
fever and bodily miasmas, soup and herbal infusions — the midwife 
suddenly discerned the smell of blood. 

She leaped to her feet, picked up the doctor’s bag and rummaged 
in it with her still-dirty hands. She took out a big syringe and a 
glass ampoule. She handed it to Tabby. “Rub this on her loins,” 
she ordered, “we have to stop the hemorrhage.” Then she filled the 
syringe from a little bowl of water, the only one still clean, came 
and stood beside the doctor, knelt again, took out the forceps and 
inserted the syringe. 

“In the name of the Father,” she whispered, pumping in the first 
squirt of water, “the Son and the Holy Ghost.” 

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She set the syringe down on the floor and stretched a hand toward 
the patient’s face. 

Mary Johnson was struggling to breathe. Her fever was rising and 
so was the sun, slow and clumsy, struggling to escape the embrace of 
the swamps. 

Joseph wrapped his things in a blanket and tied it with a leather belt. 
He became aware of someone’s presence. He turned around slightly. 

Lacroix was standing behind him. 

“Are you going home?” asked Joseph. 

“What about you?” 

“I didn’t know about Gage’s order. You aren’t obliged to follow 
us to Canada.” 

Lacroix sat on a rock and started phlegmatically filling his pipe. 

Joseph set his luggage down and joined his friend. 

In the antechamber, Nancy Johnson wept silently, just tears and 
shaking, one hand over her lips to hold back her sobs, the other 
gripping her stomach. 

As soon as she saw her brother-in-law, she walked toward him 
and tried to hold him back. 

“Don’t go in, Guy. Not now.” 

He brushed her aside with his arm and gripped the handle of the 

The only person in the room was the midwife. She was holding 
the corpse of the child, wrapped in bandages. Six little amulets hung 
from its pale neck, covering its tiny chest. Lydia Devon was crying as 
well: since she started her profession only four unborn children had 
died under her care. Never a disaster like this. 

Mary was lying in a pool of blood. Naked, motionless, the incision 
slashing her belly. 

Guy quickly slammed the door, to banish the horror. 

He clenched his fists and pushed away Nancy’s hand. He felt as if 
the earth were shaking. 

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26 . 

When Joseph had lost Peggy, the comfort of those who loved him 
had softened his suffering. Molly and Sir William, Tekarihoga and 
the elders of the village, Margaret and the matrons of the clan, his 
friends Sakihenakenta and Kanatawakhon, Reverend Stewart. They 
had all had the right words for the widowed warrior. 

Joseph had dreamed hard, and had entrusted the children to 
Molly and his old mother and set off for Oquaga. He had returned 
with Susanna and life had resumed. 

In Oswego, on the other hand, Guy had the gruff comfort of 
Daniel Claus, John Butler and Cormac McLeod, along with a capital 
of polite conversation, a gift from other members of the expedition, 
to invest in an attempt not to fall to pieces. 

Joseph thought about Lacroix, another tormented husband and 
father, the survivor of an even worse tragedy that he had confronted 
in total solitude. The man of the forests hadn’t mentioned the death 
of Mary and the child; he had spent hours sitting on the lake shore 
and now he was there, among the crowd. His face betrayed no 
emotion, but between his throat and his breastbone there must have 
been a storm of memories. 

The funeral of Uraghquadirah’s wife brought the souls of the 
Longhouse together for one last day. The death of a child destined 
to be called William Johnson, the grandson of Warraghiyagey, was 
an anvil that had fallen from the sky to crush everything else. The 
tragedy had dissipated suspicions and grudges, had brushed them 
aside. Guy Johnson was just the head of a family, thunderstruck, 
stunned, left with three daughters and a journey to make. 

Joseph and John Butler dug the hole and lowered the coffin. 
Tekarihoga and Little Abraham prayed to the Master of Life. The 
tears of Esther, Judith and Sarah drenched the cloak of their aunt, 
Nancy Claus, who was weeping on her husband’s shoulder. The 
midwife, Lydia Devon, prayed with her hands clasped. The grave 

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,0 3 

filled with earth and Guy Johnson couldn’t look up from his own 
boots. Joseph looked at him and felt sorrow on his behalf. 

The Christians recited the Our Father in English, in Latin, 
in Mohawk, in Oneida. Onwari teconnoronkwanions. . . Pater 
noster. . . ise tsiati ioainerentakwa. . . qui est in caelis. . . Rawennio 
senikwekon. . . hallowed be Thy name. . . The babel of Iroquireland 
bade farewell to Mary Johnson, buried with her baby in her arms. 

Lacroix finished the prayer, et non nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera 
nos a malo. Amen , and he crossed himself. Joseph saw him walk over to 
Guy and rest a hand on his shoulder. The superintendent raised his head 
in surprise, eyes glistening. Lacroix said nothing; there was no need for 
words. The other man nodded. The man of the forests walked away. 

Guy took a deep breath, shook his back as if a shadow had run 
down his spine, and moved at last toward Nancy and the girls. 

“Today Le Grand Diable warmed a man’s heart,” thought Joseph. 

The boats split the calm waters with their sails unfurled, but there 
wasn’t enough wind. They had to apply themselves to the oars. 
The sky was clear, furrowed only by a few motionless white clouds, 
reflected in the mirror of the lake. Aboard, no one was talking. 

Guy Johnson was sitting in the front boat, his eyes lost in the wake 
from the oars. After the funeral he hadn’t said a word, not even to 
his daughters, whom he had left in Oswego with their Aunt Nancy. 
On the wharf, Esther had watched the boats moving away. Her sisters 
were asleep, but she had slipped out from the covers to see them leave. 
Guy had made a great effort to wave, but had received no response. 
The first ray of sunlight was reflected in the little girl’s golden hair, 
stirred faintly by the wind. She had stayed there, motionless, as the 
mist from the lake gradually erased her from view. Guy had continued 
to feel her eyes upon him, out there on the water, as if the girl’s clear 
eyes could reach him even here, or at the end of the world. He had 
prayed in a low voice for his wife, for his stillborn son and for himself. 
He had asked forgiveness from God, a strict father who seemed to 
have abandoned them. He had asked forgiveness of Esther, trying 
desperately to understand his own guilt. 

He summoned all his courage. He had an expedition to lead and 
battles to fight. Canada was there waiting for him. He had to endure 
the grief, the weight on his shoulders and the creaks in his body. He 
had to go on. 

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27 . 

“Two tribes were fighting over the earth. One of them lived to the 
north of the St. Lawrence River, the other to the south. The Master 
of Life, saddened by that war, decided to descend from heaven with 
a mysterious bundle.” 

The night was damp, but the smoke kept the mosquitoes away. 
Peter was telling the legend of Manituana, the place where they were 
camped. He had been told it by his mother, but he didn’t remember 
it well. 

With him were Walter Butler and three young Canajoharie 
warriors who had come during their watch with a bottle of whisky 
purloined from somewhere or other. 

“The Master of Life unrolled the blanket and in it was a land 
of delights, created so that everyone might live in abundance and 
there would no longer be any reason to fight. He rested his gift 
on the waters of the St. Lawrence, an equal distance from the two 
banks, and invited the men to move there. For many years the 
people of the South and the people of the North lived in peace 
on Manituana. To talk, they mixed their languages, so that no 
misunderstanding might arise. The first children were born and 
many of them had a father from one people and a mother from 
the other. Each family wanted their descendants to learn only 
the language and customs of their forefathers. So, as the children 
grew and spoke their bastard language, the people of the North 
and the people of the South began to hate one another. The ones 
from the South returned to the South and those from the North 
to the North. Only the children who were of no people remained 
on Manituana, while their relatives prepared to fight, to decide 
which of them would keep the island. The shouts and war cries 
rose into the air and led the Master of Life to descend a second 
time. Reaching the earth, he understood that men were fighting 
once again over his gift. Then he picked up the blanket and took it 

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io 5 

away. But as he was moving aside the curtain of the sky, the blanket 
opened and the land plunged into the river.” 

Peters voice grew deeper, the rhythm of his words slower. 

“High waves rose up and the warriors assembled on the shores 
all died. Manituana shattered into pieces, fragments, pebbles. The 
Thousand Islands of the St. Tawrence.” 

“And what about the children left on the island?” asked one of 
the young warriors. “What became of them?” 

Peter looked at the cup in his hands and supplied his surprise 

“We are those children. When the island fell from the sky, many 
were drowned, but others clung to a scrap of land and managed to 
reach safety. But they had had enough of the wars between North 
and South, so they sought another homeland and found it at last, in 
the Mohawk Valley.” 

Canajoharie’s boys drained the bottle in a toast to Peter. 

It was Walter Butler’s turn: “I don’t know any Indian legends, but 
I can tell you the story of Ethan Allen, the Goliath of the Green 
Mountains, the man who took Fort Ticonderoga.” 

“Do you really know it?” asked Peter. 

“My father told it to me. He knew Allen before he became an 

Walter, pleased to have drawn attention, began the story. 

“Ethan Allen was a bloodthirsty brigand, over six feet tall. For 
years he had lorded it over the Green Mountains, which were for 
a time part of New Hampshire. Then the land was bought by the 
colony of New York, which had sent its settlers there. Allen was a 
farmer who didn’t want to pay any taxes to the people in Albany, 
because he hated them. He fired at the new arrivals, and he recruited 
a gang of criminals, the Green Mountain Boys, and pronounced 
himself their colonel. The king in person put a bounty of three 
hundred pounds on his head. He himself offered fifty to anyone 
who handed the governor over to him. Walter’s father thought 
he was one of the most dangerous bandits in America. When the 
Whigs fired on the army in Lexington and Concord, and laid 
siege to Boston immediately afterward, Allen worked out that he 
could ally himself with them. They were angry with the governor 
of Massachusetts, as he was with the governor of New York. His 
intention was to proclaim the Green Mountains an independent 

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territory, and with the help of the Bostonians he could do it. So he 
too became a Whig. 

“They took Fort Ticonderoga while the garrison was drunk. 
Ethan Allen shouted: ‘In the name of the great Jehovah and the 
Continental Congress!’ The Green Mountain Boys had come in 
with rifles raised. Tike when the Greeks entered Rome hidden in a 
big wooden horse, except that there was no wooden horse.” 

The Greeks in Rome? Peter was about to object, when he heard 
a sound of branches. 

“Did you hear that?” Walter asked, turning suddenly toward the 

He leapt to his feet clutching his rifle, his face pale. The sight of a 
familiar figure reassured him. 

“Mr. McLeod,” he said. 

He saluted him discreetly as the Scotsman entered the circle of light. 

“Three little bastards have pinched a bottle from my reserve. I 
saw them coming up hereabouts.” 

Peter looked around, embarrassed. The Indian boys had 

“They haven’t passed this way,” Walter said quickly. 

“We could offer you some tea,” Peter suggested. 

McLeod grunted his thanks. He sat down and darted a glance 
behind him. 

“You’re not the only ones on guard this evening. There’s that 
Indian, too.” He pointed to the darkness. “Lacroix.” 

Peter turned around, as if he could see through the night. 

“Where?” he asked. 

“Down there, sitting in the dark.” 

“Impossible,” Walter observed. “We haven’t seen or even heard 

“Sure,” McLeod nodded, clutching the cup. “Just as you didn’t see 
those three thieves, eh?” 

Walter was about to retort, but again it was the Scotsman who 

“I nearly bumped into him. Still as a tree trunk.” 

“He’s a strange character,” Walter said swiftly, “What do they call 

“His enemies call him Le Grand Diable,” Peter replied. “Because 
of an act of revenge. I’ve heard.” 

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I0 7 

“It’s a story that happened long ago,” said McLeod. 

“You know it?” 

The man poked the fire with a stick. 

“Back from the war, he got married and went west to hunt, with 
his wife and daughter. One day he got home and found his family 
massacred.” McLeod’s voice thickened. “Huron Indians, disbanded 
and drunk. Rejects thrown out of the tribes.” He spat on the ground. 
“They slaughtered them like animals.” 

He fell silent. The crackling of the flames was the only clear sound 
in the muffled chorus of rustling nocturnal beasts. Peter wanted to 
know how the story ended. 

“He stayed away for a whole winter. He came back in the spring 
with twenty-seven scalps in a sack.” 

Peter gripped his jaw. 

“I saw them with my own eyes,” the other man said, his voice even 
hoarser. “They’re buried beside the grave of his womenfolk.” 

McLeod stood up. “Gentlemen, thank you for the tea. Good luck 
with the rest of your guard.” 

The man walked away, and the two youths were left in silence. 
Walter said he would do the second round of guard duty, and 
wrapped himself up in his blanket. 

Peter studied the darkness. He imagined the surface of the lake, a 
sea in the heart of the continent. The stories that night all spoke of 
conflict and reminded him that soon he would be fighting side by 
side with great warriors. 

As he cleaned his rifle, he prayed that he was up to it. 

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Smells of summer breathed from the banks of the St. Lawrence, and 
the open air dispersed the miasmas rising around the boats. The 
sun was already rising, and soon the Lachine Rapids would put the 
convoy to the test. 

Joseph studied the profile of the banks, searching for footholds 
in his memory, in twenty-year-old visions, when he had first plowed 
these waters. He observed the shadow cast by the hull and noticed 
that Philip was doing the same thing. The solitary hunter’s face 
rippled in the current. 

The war against France had lasted seven years, but because of 
their youth they had only been able to take part in Sir William’s 
final enterprises: the capture of Fort Niagara, where they had had 
their baptism of fire, and the taking of Montreal, the last French 
bulwark in America. The French had known by then that the war 
was lost, and the city had surrendered without resistance. And yet 
he and Philip had run their greatest risk then, as they traveled that 
river. They had escaped together and that had been the start of their 

Joseph noticed that he was holding the oar tighter than necessary. 
A stiff, contracted grip that he was beginning to feel in his back. He 
tried to make his movements more fluid and went on rowing. He 
imagined that Philip, too, was traveling that path in his memories. 

They were seventeen then, but that time they hadn’t tried to hurl 
insults and fire from behind a tree as they waited for the warriors to 
resolve the issue. That time the smell of fear and death had poured 
in through their nostrils, descending to their bellies and rising to 
their throats. 

They were scouting with two expert warriors, people who had 
fought under Hendrick’s wing, killers of men, respected by all the 
chiefs in the Longhouse. General Amherst, who was leading the 
expedition, feared that the tribes allied to the French might launch 

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an attack on the rapids. Sir William had offered to send a canoe on 

It was an important task, and Joseph remembered the pride he 
had felt. They had to disembark and patrol the shore, check whether 
anyone had left signs or traces on the path along the right bank of 
the river. 

When the canoe approached the rocks, the warrior in the prow 
had gestured to them to stop. Silence, just the lapping of the boat 
and the roar of the rapids further down the valley. Joseph had only 
had time to touch his rifle before it happened. 

All of a sudden, ferocious demons had emerged from the river, 
from the masses of weed that had concealed them. The warriors in 
the prow and the stern were dragged down in an inescapable embrace. 

Joseph had seen his own fear reflected in his friend’s face. Then 
Philip hurled himself out of the canoe with a war cry. Joseph saw 
him advancing up to his belly in the water, challenging the Abenaki. 
They had sneered, he was only a boy, they found the whole thing 
ridiculous, amusing. Nonetheless they prepared to kill him. 

Joseph counted the rifles of the warriors in the canoe. Four 
including his own. Then he did the same with the enemies. He 
couldn’t make a mistake. 

He killed the first with a blow to the chest, without giving him 
time to approach Philip. The second he only managed to wound in 
the side, but Philip finished him oft with his tomahawk. The third 
and fourth threw themselves against the young Mohawk, blinded 
by rage. Joseph struck only one of them, in the head. The struggle 
between Philip and his final adversary lasted only a few breaths, 
which to Joseph seemed an eternity. Then his friend emerged from 
the water brandishing his knife. He had a wound in his side. One 
step beyond him, his adversary was trying to get back to his feet, 
dabbing at his arm, which was cut to the bone. As he retreated 
toward the forest, he cursed them in his language and in French, 
unable to believe that he had been beaten by two boys. 

With a mixture of rage and fear, Philip had thrown himself in 

Joseph had few shots left in his gun. Recharging would take 
too much time. As if in a dream, his mind’s eye watched the body 
jumping into the water and running, knees lifted high, toward the 

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He caught up to them among the trees. He had had to drag Philip 
oft his enemy, who was still struggling under the knife blows. In 
spite of his wound, Philip was a bundle of nerves and muscles ready 
to spring — or to dissolve as soon as he lost his strength. 

Without thinking, Joseph had looked at the dying warrior’s face 
and raised the barrel of his rifle. The sound of the skull shattering 
entered his ears, never to leave them. 

When they got back to the canoe, the little inlet was red with 
blood and the current rocked the inert bodies of the fallen. The two 
survivors had looked at one another without a word. Philip’s wound 
was a deep one. They had to get back to the convoy as quickly as 
possible. Just one pair of arms to paddle, carry the bodies of their 
companions, hope that most of their enemies were far away. In that 
situation, firing had not been wise. 

But you don’t expect wisdom from young men. 

Joseph had rowed with all the strength of desperation, anxious to 
glimpse the outline of friendly boats. The clash had taken place in 
the water, but blood drenched everything. Even their spirits. 

The stream of memories made way for images of the present, 
another convoy, another war. Joseph went on watching Philip 
row. He thought there must be a meaning in the repetition of this 
journey. It was like going back to the start of it all. 

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29 . 

The Island of Montreal appeared in the blazing July sun. The Island 
of Jesus, the second post of the door into Canada, appeared behind 
it. The waters of the St. Lawrence parted into three courses, through 
easily defensible straits, to meet up again further to the north. 

Peter Johnson had listened to the tales of that journey so many 
times that he recognized every detail, as if he had been there before. 
On the eastern bank, threads of smoke among the trees revealed the 
village of the Caughnawaga, who had once been renegade Mohawks, 
allies of the French. From the beach, women and children watched 
the boats. 

Once they had turned the loop of the river, the larger island 
appeared, revealing its full length. The hill was scattered with fields 
and vegetable plots that sloped down to the city, firmly enclosed by 
its ramparts. The bell tower of the church of Notre-Dame stood out 
above the built-up area. 

Peter wished he could say something, express his enthusiasm at 
having reached the end of the journey, perhaps even fire in the air 
to announce their arrival. But for many of them, approaching their 
destination was anything but joyous, because of the grief that had 
fallen upon the expedition and the few warriors who followed it. 
Silence dominated everyone’s heart. Guy Johnson sat in the front 
boat, gloomy and taciturn, along with the men from the Department. 
Uncle Joseph hadn’t said a word since leaving Oswego. The other 
warriors didn’t consider Peter adult enough to let him chat with 
them. Furthermore, he had spent the last few years in Philadelphia, 
immersed in his studies, and had led too different a life. On the 
last stretch of the journey, if it hadn’t been for Walter Butler, Peter 
wouldn’t have had a soul to exchange two words with. But Walter 
was rowing on the Department boat, beside his father. Peter resigned 
himself to keeping his feelings hidden and rowed even harder. 

* * * 

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Once, in New York, Peter had seen His Majesty’s troops lined up on 
parade. Now, a step away from the war, the effect was very different. 
On the Place d’Armes, next to the church, the city garrison welcomed 
them with drum rolls. Peter was dazzled by the scarlet of the 
uniforms, which was echoed in the standards. Governor Carleton 
waited for the delegation in the middle of the parade ground, and 
together they saluted the flag. Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus, stiff' 
before the Union Jack, betrayed no weariness. They followed the 
ceremony to the end, when the order was given to break ranks and 
return to guard duties. The soldiers quickly dispersed in little groups. 

“Are we going to be fighting alongside them?” Peter asked. 

Joseph touched his shoulder. 

“Not just them, I hope. That’s not a lot of people to hold the city.” 

The boy noticed the shadow that crossed his uncle’s face. He 
didn’t ask anything else. 

Governor Carleton read the message carefully, his pupils darting 
from one word to the next. Then he folded up the sheet of paper 
and wearily handed it back to Guy Johnson. 

“General Gage always has a thought for everyone.” 

His voice was slurred. Guy thought it sounded like the voice of a 
sick man. He exchanged a glance with Daniel Claus, who was sitting 
beside him, and waited. 

The governor stretched his legs out under the table, letting his 
belly press against the wooden edge. Gray curls framed a hairless, 
sweaty face, reflective wrinkles rippled his receding hairline. He 
waved for a drink to be brought. 

“It’s very hot, don’t you think?” 

He drained a glass of yellowish liquid and wiped his fleshy lips 
with a lace handkerchief. 

Johnson and Claus were still silent. It was true, in the commissariat 
the air was musty and stale. The light came in through only one 
window. They were sweating under their woolen jackets. 

“He has sent you here to defend Canada. Of course.” Carleton 
nodded to himself. “What the devil does Gage know about Canada? 
He’s been barricaded away in Boston for three months and claims 
he’s leading the military operations.” 

He struck his glass on the table and an attendant hurried to fill 
it again. 

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n 3 

“You know, I sent him my best units. Now I’m forced to hold 
the position with a few thousand men, on a territory ten times the 
size of England, while he hides himself away.” The last words were 
muttered between his teeth. 

With a flick of his hand he unrolled a map on the big table and 
nodded to the two others to look at it, something that he had no 
need to do. Johnson and Claus craned their necks. The St. Tawrence 
Basin was reproduced there in all its length, from Take Ontario to 
the ocean. 

Carleton stretched his legs again. 

“In Tondon they don’t understand.” He was talking to himself 
now, staring into midair, hands folded on his belly. “The nature of 
the problem plainly escapes them.” He ran his index finger along the 
edge of the map. “The size of this continent.” 

He sighed. He looked at the two gentlemen as if he had only just 
noticed they were there. 

“We have a difficult task ahead of us. Civilizing a vast, wild and 
hostile territory. A heavy burden to bear, yes. And yet someone has 
to do it.” He wiped away the sweat that pearled on his forehead. “It’s 
very hot, isn’t it ?” 

Again he had the glasses filled, and sipped his drink distractedly, 
listening to the vague sounds that reached them from outside, 
mingling with the ticking of the clock at the end of the room. 

“I’ve asked for reinforcements, but no luck so far. I’ve also tried to 
recruit these French peasants. Pointless, they still see us as occupying 
forces, they will never fight for George III.” 

He stared at the two of them in silence, seriously, waiting for the 
answer to an implied question. 

“And now Thomas Gage sends you, along with two hundred 
Indians.” He smiled faintly. “What a masterpiece. Perhaps he thinks 
you should act like Teonidas at Thermopylae.” 

Johnson and Claus were two pillars of salt frozen to their chairs. 
Guy felt rage mounting, along with a sense of gloomy frustration. 

“We can recruit a thousand,” he broke in frostily. “Only if Your 
Excellency permits. With an Indian army we could go down to meet 
the rebels on Lake Champlain. Win back Fort Ticonderoga. Send 
them back where they came from.” 

Carleton listened impassively. 

Daniel Claus leaned forward. 

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II 4 


“With the greatest respect, Excellency, I have been acting as 
superintendent of the Canadian Indians for many years. Let us 
organize a council here, too. I have good reasons to believe that the 
tribes of these territories will fight on the side of the king.” 

The governor stifled a coughing fit. 

“That doesn’t mean that you, Mr. Claus, or you, Mr. Johnson, 
have any right to act as superintendent of the Indian Department.” 
The German said nothing, but Guy interrupted in a voice slightly 
more heated than etiquette might have called for. 

“The late Sir William Johnson appointed us his successors.” 

“As I am sure you know,” Carleton replied coldly, “Department 
posts are the prerogative of the Colonial Ministry.” 

Guy felt tired, put to the test by his recent struggle and annoyed 
by this man’s stubbornness. He was tempted to forget the whole 
thing, get up and go home, abandon himself to events or even rage 
against them. He took a deep breath to banish the feeling. 

“Excellency, by your own admission, you don’t have many soldiers 
to defend Montreal. And if Montreal falls, the rebels will have a 
clear road all the way to Quebec.” 

Carleton interrupted him again. “If you’re so convinced that the 
Indians will lend us their obedience, tell me, what would they claim 
in return?” 

“Gifts. And the confirmation of what we promised in Oswego.” 
Carleton raised an eyebrow more expressive than a question 

“That those fighting for the Crown will be compensated for any 
territorial losses.” 

“Ah,” said the governor. “Nothing less.” 

He shifted on his chair, but said nothing more. Guy spotted an 
opening and decided to exploit it. 

“They won’t ask you to put it in writing. It’ll be enough for Your 
Excellency to say it in front of the war chiefs.” 

The grandfather clock, the clatter of the carriages in the square, 
the marching steps of the patrol, the shouts of children. The light 
faded, the sun gilded the outlines of things. 

Carleton nodded, with slow, grave motions of his head. 

“Now I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will let you organize this 
council. Assemble all the warriors you can. The rebels are at least 
as frightened of the Indians as I am. They will be frightened and 

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perhaps they won’t attack us. And yet it will help us gain time. 
Anyway, I command you to stay within the Canadian borders. You 
won’t go below the forty-fifth parallel, you will wait for the rebels 
cross it before engaging them in battle.” 

“Excellency. . .” Guy Johnson attempted to break in, but the 
governor’s raised hand compelled him to silence. 

“Gentlemen, here I represent His Majesty. Sir Guy Carleton 
will not enter the annals for unleashing the savages against English 
subjects, even if those subjects are traitors. They will hang from a 
gallows after a trial for high treason, not have their throats slit and 
their scalps cut oft in the middle of a forest.” He stared into both 
men’s eyes for a long time. “These are my orders. Stick to them 
without exception.” 

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30 . 

Montreal, 5 September 1775 

Honored Sir John, 

The messengers I invited from Oswego will by now have given 
you news of the death of my wife and the baby she carried in 
her womb. An immeasurable loss for me and a bad omen for the 
expedition, which, I am convinced of it, has taken an indelible 
air of misfortune from this tragedy. Ill luck, in fact, has not 
abandoned us. Allow me to illustrate this with reference to the 
events of the last few months, and you may judge for yourselves. 

We arrived in Canada in the middle of July with only two 
hundred warriors, receiving a rather cool reception from the 
governor, General Carleton. Of his antipathy toward our family 
we were already aware, but we didn’t expect him to discourage 
an initiative that might bring him relief. He is, in fact, short of 
troops, having sent reinforcements to General Gage in Boston, 
and is under threat of an invasion by the Whig rebels. I have 
tried to explain to His Excellency that General Gage thought it 
a good idea to send us in return, along with the Indian irregulars, 
to support Canada, but the argument had no effect upon him. 

Nonetheless, he agreed to confirm to the Indians the promises 
made in Oswego by the undersigned, in exchange for support 
for our cause, which is to say compensation by the Crown for 
all territory lost in the event of conflict with the Whigs. We 
pressured him to agree in front of a council of Canadian tribes, 
called for the occasion by our trustworthy Daniel Claus. Among 
the two thousand or so convened, Carleton’s promises made a 
great impression, but we know that the enthusiasm of the Indians 
is short-lived, if it does not find an outlet in immediate action. 
Unfortunately the suspicious indecision of the governor toward 
the Indians has revealed itself to be an obstacle more difficult 

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n 7 

to overcome than any rapids or straits that we encountered on 
our way here. He does not trust the Indians and he does not 
want them to fight alone, for fear of losing control of them and 
being accused of savagery. It is His Excellency’s firm will that 
our warriors should fight alongside the regular troops in mixed 
regiments, under the command of British officers. The order 
received has been to hold the position and wait for the offensive 
from the rebels or the arrival of fresh contingents from the 

To this we must add that the Whig rebels have wasted no time 
in trying to corrupt the tribes, buying their neutrality with gold. 

The Caughnawaga were persuaded by three hundred pounds. 

Yet more serious is the fact that a week ago an Oneida 
delegation came to our camp, advising the warriors to sign the 
peace with the Albany rebels and pointing out that the Mohawks 
of Fort Hunter would already have done so. If this is so, then our 
valley and our possessions are exposed to a grave risk, without 
any Indian tribe willing to defend them, and you and your family 
are in danger. 

Heavy-hearted with this news, we were resolving to turn back 
in great haste, when further news reached us: the rebels have 
resumed their northward advance. From Fort Ticonderoga they 
are going back up to Lake Champlain. 

They are led by Montgomery, whom you will remember 
as an officer of General Amherst in the Franco -Indian War. 
He is Irish as we are: Sir William, your father, knew him well 
and would today be surprised to find himself fighting against 
an old comrade-in-arms. We do not yet know how many men 
Montgomery is taking with him, but the news has led Governor 
Carleton to mobilize the Indians, albeit under the orders of an 
officer. Butler put himself forward. As I write he is leading the 
warriors beyond the St. Lawrence, to the outpost of Fort St. 
Johns, the first obstacle that the rebels will find in their path. Our 
Mohawks are with him. 

It would be futile to point out that the morale of the 
Department is rather low. The fighters at our disposal are few in 
number, there is as yet no news of reinforcements from England, 
and it is beyond dispute that Montreal would be unable to resist 
a major attack. Our contribution to the defense of Canada is 

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far from significant. So it is my intention to prepare myself to 
organize our return as soon as possible. 

Because uncertainty about what might happen by chance 
leaves us prey to a profound anxiety, I ask you to send me news 
from the colony as soon as possible. 

In the hope of meeting up with you again soon and wishing 
you all the best, I remain 

Your devoted brother-in-law, 
Guy Johnson 

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31 . 

Around the dancer, whites and Indians were clapping their hands. 
The tune of the bagpipes and the tight rhythm of the drum seemed 
to be coming from underground, buried by the hubbub, the cries of 
encouragement. The man at the center of all the attention hopped 
back and forth on alternate legs, knees lifted high, right hand raised 
above his head, left hand on his hip. He was wearing the traditional 
headgear of his people, the one that the English contemptuously 
referred to as a cowpat. The kilt and clocked socks had been left at 
home, in a little farm owned by the Johnsons. 

From the first note, Peter had recognized the music, a march. The 
steps, on the other hand, were indecipherable. It wasn’t so much a 
dance as a play of the legs to disorient one’s adversary and surprise 
him with a dagger blow. 

Tying on the sun-yellowed grass, two swords formed a cross. Peter 
knew that the challenge lay in striking the feet beside the blades, 
now in one square, now in the other, without ever trampling on 
them. Not a simple game, with the usual corollary of bets: dancing 
on the swords was one of many ways of obtaining good luck. The 
Mohawks were very keen on it. His father had sworn that it was the 
Highland War Dance, rather than the exhausting councils, that had 
persuaded the Six Nations to fight the French. 

“That’s nothing to be surprised about,” he’d said. “The Scots are 
the most Indian of all the peoples in Europe.” 

The drumming became urgent: the musicians were really showing 
warlike enthusiasm. Their shouts grew together into a chorus. 
Peter looked at the dancer: he was flying, hovering an inch above 
the ground, his feet so fast that they were floating on the dust. A 
warrior capable of moving like that would be an impossible target 
for anyone. 

The circle of spectators tightened. The Highlanders came 
forward with long suspended strides, in a dance step. The others 

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tried to imitate them. They looked like a marching army menacingly 
encircling the last enemy standing. In reality, they were approaching 
to check that their champion wasn’t treading on the weapons. If 
he succeeded, the next day they would repel the rebel assault and 
Peter’s baptism of fire would end in victory. 

The dust obscured their view of the swords. 

The summer twilight softened lines and contrasts on the Fort 
St. Johns parade ground. The sentries on the ramparts also cocked 
their ears to the music, which was speeding toward its final, furious 
gallop. There was a collective start, then the voices fell silent, hands 
stopped clapping and pointed to the cross at the dancer’s feet. The 
whole of the first row was aquiver with squabbles and arguments, 
then the one behind it and the one behind that. The circle of men 
held their breath. In the sudden silence, Cormac McLeod walked 
toward the dancer, who was waiting at attention by the swords. 

The great chief of the Scots knelt solemnly by the crossed blades, 
blew in the dust, then looked up at the warrior. McLeod gripped 
the weapons, lifted them high in the shape of a cross and struck the 
swords three times against each other. 

“Bualidh mi u an sa chean he cried at the top of his lungs. 

“ Bualidh mi u an sa chean!” repeated the Highlanders in a roar 
of exultation, then threw themselves on their champion and carried 
him in triumph over their heads. 

The Indians remained on the parade ground, still perplexed about 
the outcome of the dance, the battle and the bets. The evening star 
was already shining beside the moon. 

Peter breathed in the night air. He had never seen such an old- 
looking building, not even in Albany, not even in New York. In 
actual fact the fort had been built recently, but the palisade, already 
moss-covered, seemed to have emerged out of the ground before 
the start of time. The British flag flapped lazily in the middle of the 
smoke from the fires, the faded colors of night making it look black 
and white. 

The previous day, a salvo of hurrahs had greeted their arrival 
from the terraces of the fort. The garrison looked haggard. The 84th 
regiment, the Royal Highlander Emigrants, was in fact little more 
than a battalion. Recruited in Boston, New York, Canada, Nova 
Scotia. People who had only recently arrived on American soil: 
fishermen from Newfoundland, settlers from Carolina who had 

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disembarked with very different hopes, had quickly made up their 
minds which side to be on. Soldiers in the green uniform of the 
Canadian regiments — they had been promised the red one, with 
kilt, saber and pistol, but it hadn’t yet arrived. 

Now the fort was swarming with activity, preparations for war. 
Powder-horns were being filled, rifles cleaned. McLeod honed the 
blade of his sword on the grindstone. They would get no sleep 
before the battle, just a few hours of unconsciousness to summon 
their strength and be on their feet at dawn. Peter certainly wouldn’t 
shut an eye. At last the moment had come. 

That afternoon Uncle Joseph and John Butler had studied the 
battle plan. The rebels expected to find a little contingent barricaded 
in the fort, and instead the garrison would be waiting for them along 
the river. The guides maintained that the best spot was a strait a few 
miles to the south, where the current would slow the enemy advance. 

“The Scots have danced their dances,” he heard his uncle’s voice 
just behind his ear. “It’s time for ours.” 

Peter sat next to him and took out a small mirror. Without 
speaking, he began to paint his face with broad red and blue squares, 
while Joseph finished cleaning his own weapon with the plunger 
and a soapy rag. 

“They say the scalp is the essence of the man. But I say that the essence 
of a man is his rifle. The most intimate part of the rifle is hollow, empty. 
The soul of man is ungraspable, elusive. Without your rifle, you are just 
one more animal fighting to eat. The rifle, Peter, is the gift of God to 
the men of the woods, who made them lords over the animals.” Joseph 
allowed himself a pause. He thought for a moment and concluded, 
“Of course, you have to be righteous lords, not tyrants.” He set the rifle 
down and took mirror and paints from his leather bag. 

Peter had never heard words like these. Joseph began painting his 

Philip Lacroix joined them. His hair fell loose over his shoulders; 
his war-paint was subdued. He had used only black, to paint a stripe 
on his eyes. 

“Tomorrow, during the attack, you will stay close to me and 
Ronaterihonte,” Joseph said. 

Peter gulped. Not knowing what to say, he merely stared at the 
cauldron boiling on the big fire in the center of the field. The sweet 
flesh of bear was cooking in its grease. 

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As the hunter extracts the guts from the belly of his prey, the war 
chiefs would grip the boiling flesh with their bare hands. Peter and 
the warriors of his own age would serve it to the older ones, along 
with the gravy. The body and blood of the enemy would strengthen 
the men for war. 

When dinner was over the Mohawks, too, would dance as hard as 
they could, stopping to get their breath back amid chants and tales 
of derring-do. 

The light took over the sky as a cold breeze scattered the embers and 
dispersed the echo of dancing and singing. Peter, with his kit ready 
for hours and his face painted, studied the Highlanders standing 
outside the chapel for Holy Mass. In the dawn mist, with their rifles 
planted on the ground and their sabers at their sides, they looked 
like the illustrations in a book in Johnson Hall library. Knights, 
armed with lances and swords, ready to fight for their king. John 
Butler and his son were in their midst. They lined up in front of 
the priest and knelt down one after the other to receive the body of 
Christ, and each one lowered his rifle for it to be blessed. 

Tast of all Peter saw Tacroix rising to his feet and making the 
sign of the cross. Then he headed for the group of warriors. Peter 
quickened his pace, aware that his teeth were chattering behind his 
closed lips, to the rhythm of the Scottish war dance. 

White men and Indians began leaving the fort in two long parallel 
lines, making for the forest. No more than five hundred men. 

Two hours later, the scouts came back to tell them that the 
rebel army was advancing along the west bank of the Richelieu. At 
least two thousand men. Peter thought that was how courage was 
measured: confronting an enemy and making up for the disparity in 
strength with cunning and surprise. He felt he was on the threshold 
of a memorable ordeal. 

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The rebels appeared along the path that ran beside the rapids. They 
patrolled the terrain and the surrounding forest, as the boats drew 
near the shore. 

To Peter they looked like ants crawling over a tree trunk. They 
weren’t wearing uniforms, and each one was holding a different 
weapon. In the distance, the Continental American army looked 
like a band of hunters. 

Peter breathed deeply to check his agitation. The musky smell 
of undergrowth mixed with the sweetish air rising from the river. 
Lacroix, crouching next to him, didn’t move a muscle. The whole 
line of fire was motionless. Butler had arranged the men along the 
edge of a little promon-tory overlooking the strait of the Richelieu. 
The 84th and the Highlanders in the middle, the Indians at the 
sides. They would strike them from above, from the shelter of the 
trees, while they were out in the open and halfway through. 

Joseph crept along silently until he reached the edge of the rank, 
where he would take charge of the Mohawk fusillade. 

Lacroix looked at Peter and guessed his state of mind. 

“Control your fear. Don’t let it out,” he murmured. “When 
everything happens quickly, learn to be slow.” 

The rebels down at the river unloaded the boats to lessen their 
draft and let them pass through the rapids. Groups of them held the 
towlines and released them just enough to lower the boats without 
violent collisions. As they worked, they sank and slipped to their 
knees in the mud. 

Peter realized the time had come. The Highland war cry rang out 
on the ridge, loud and picked up by dozens of voices. Panic spread 
along the riverbank, turning into terror when the first two hundred 
rifles opened fire from the forest. 

Peter didn’t know if he had hit his target. When the smoke cleared 
there were bodies floating in the water and others struggling to keep 

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I2 4 


from drowning. Butler ordered the second salvo. The ants on the 
bank ran in all directions, in search of shelter, under the stones on 
the shore or in holes in the ground. Some tried to reach the opposite 
bank, but the current dragged them away. 

One of the boats had run aground among the rocks; the others 
were stuck on the bank. 

Someone returned fire, aiming blindly into the scrub. Peter’s 
voice joined in with the Mohawk cry of exultation. The Indians 
were good at making themselves seem like twice as many. 

The firing went on chaotically, each man shooting at his own 
hidden target. 

Now they had them in their pockets. 

Then earth and sky trembled. 

Peter was assailed by a rain of rocks and soil, and a tangle of 
shattered branches came hurtling down from above. 

Butler ran behind the line of riflemen, toward Joseph, but slipped 
and fell. A second explosion, and two ragged bodies were hurled 
into the air. 

Butler got to his feet covered in mud, his face and jacket spattered 
with blood. He cursed as he reached Joseph. 

“Those bastards are firing a mortar at us!” 

He was yelling, deafened by the reports. Peter could hear something. 

Joseph tried to locate the mortar in the rebel line. 

“Where is it?” 

Butler pointed to the loop in the river. 

“Behind the rocks.” 

The third shot burst from behind a tree trunk, which collapsed 
on the rank of men. One of the soldiers cried out, his leg pierced by 
a splintered branch. 

Peter spat out soil and tried to breathe; the air was thick with 
soot. The trees and the ferns trapped the gun-smoke, which turned 
into a dense fog. 

“How can they see us from down there?” Joseph shouted with 

“They don’t need to see us,” Butler replied. “They’re firing at 
random into the hill. With that thing they can bring the whole 
forest down on top of us if they want.” 

As if to underline the Irishman’s words, a fourth cannonade 
crashed down a few yards above them, tearing up trees and plants. 

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I2 5 

The Indians were terrified, and on the point of scattering. Joseph 
ran along the rank, along with Butler, yelling with all the breath he 
could muster. 

“Stop! Go on firing!” 

Peter lost sight of him amid the smoke and foliage. Only then 
did he notice that he was pushing down with his palms to get to his 
feet: his legs wanted to run away, but Lacroix’s hand was keeping 
him down. 

The fifth burst of mortar fire opened up a corridor among the 
trees and bounced almost to the top of the slope. The falling leaves 
and branches buried half of the rank and kept them from firing. 

McLeod yelled orders to his men, waving his sword. He swore on 
St. Andrew and St. Columbanus that he would disembowel anyone 
who turned his back on the enemy. The air was by now impossible to 
breathe and not a thing could be seen. Peter struggled to make out 
Joseph and Butler among the men lying around him. Mud and war- 
paint mixed on his uncle’s face, giving him a monstrous expression. 

Butler shouted over the noise of the disintegrating forest. 

“We’ve got to split up into little groups and climb up to the 

Joseph shook his head. 

“No. Up there we’d be easier targets.” 

“There’s no alternative!” roared the Irishman. 

Joseph looked at Lacroix. The two men stared at one another. 
He had lost count of the cannon shots, his ears hummed, he was 
coughing and spitting. 

“Let’s go,” said Joseph. 

He uttered a sharp cry and Kanatawakhon and Sakihenakenta 
emerged from the rank. 

Oronhyateka and Kanenonte, their muscles gleaming with sweat, 
came up alongside Lacroix. 

Joseph looked at the warriors and came up to Peter, so close that 
he breathed in his face. 

“Going back up is as dangerous as staying here. So the only way of 
getting to safety is to go down. We have to get close to the mortar, 
you see ? Where it can’t hit us. Put it out of action.” 

Stunned, Peter nodded. 

“Stay one step behind me,” said Joseph. “Keep your head down 
and when I tell you, throw yourself on the ground.” 

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He looked at Butler, waiting for his agreement. 

“All right. Each of you take two rifles. I’ll cover you as best I can. 
May God protect you, you damned lunatics.” 

They loaded their weapons and started down the hill at a jog 
trot, parting the ferns and thickening smoke. Without a sound they 
reached the edge of the forest and squatted down behind a big fallen 
tree trunk, about thirty yards from the rebel defenses. 

After their initial dispersion they were reorganizing, trying to 
recover material and assemble their forces. The shots from the mortar 
flew high over their heads, whistling loudly. Then Peter spotted it, 
behind a group of rocks where the loop in the river created a little 
dip. It was some way from the bulk of the column, out of range, 
defended by a group of men posted behind a boat sunk into the 
mud to act as a trench. The mortar was a few dozen yards further 
back. When the wind opened up a gap in the fog, Peter could make 
out the artillerymen. 

At that moment he saw Tacroix, knife and club in his belt, rifle 
around his neck, tomahawk in his fist. 

Joseph started firing at the rebel positions, followed by the others. 
Above them, from the flank of the hill, the Highlanders were using 
up their ammunition, encouraged by the hoarse cries of Butler and 

It was then that Tacroix leapt out of his cover. 

Peter Johnson watched what followed with disbelief. 

Eater that night, back at the fort, he had to break down and 
reassemble his memory of events, like a jigsaw puzzle, to make 
it plausible to his own imagination. Telling it would have been 

Tacroix had reached the enemy defenses under cover of a cloak of 
smoke. Without running, walking quickly and silently. 

Someone, perhaps an officer, on the other side had shouted: 
“Fire! Fire!” 

Too late. The Devil was already in their midst. 

Captain Jacobs turned around, hands on his stomach. As he 
staggered he just had time to see the Indian smashing the skull of 
the second officer with a single tomahawk blow and plunging 
his knife between the ribs of the sergeant major. They were fluid 
motions, a dance. My God. He felt his knees giving way, he collapsed, 

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I2 7 

spat the blood that rose to his throat and gasped for air with his 
mouth wide open. My God. Someone in the boat sounded the 
alarm. From behind the rocks they yelled at the men to keep quiet, 
because the loyalists were trapped on the hill, under the mortar fire. 
Captain Jacobs closed his eyes and opened them again. Everything 
was blurred. The Lord is my shepherd. Lieutenant Bones found a rifle 
barrel under his chin as he bent to pick up his own weapon. The shot 
cleanly detached his head and sent it flying. He maketh me to lie down 
in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters. Donkers raised 
his rifle, but panic stopped him shooting straight and he found 
his guts between his feet, his hands groping to try and keep them 
in. He restoreth my soul, he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. 
Abrahamson charged, bayonet in hand, teeth clenched. When the 
tomahawk broke his arm with a dry sound he froze, staring at the 
limb that dangled from his shoulder. Then he looked up to receive 
the coup de grace right in the temple. For His name’s sake. Marteens 
slipped in the slimy mud as he tried to crawl away. A single knife- 
blow to the thigh sliced his artery and left him dying in the bottom of 
the boat, screaming like a slaughtered pig. Yea though I walk through 
the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with 
me. The gunners were opening fire against the shadow that advanced 
slowly toward them. How do you fire at a shadow ? Thy rod and staff 
they comfort me. Escape, Captain Jacobs would have yelled ifhe’d had 
any breath in his lungs. He saw Rodgers falling first with an ax in 
his chest. The men attached to the gun dashed furiously forward. 
The shadow bent down and crippled one as it struck the other with 
the butt of its rifle and finished both of them oft with its dagger. My 
God, Jacobs thought, forehead resting on the ground, knees drawn 
up beneath his belly. He breathed in the damp scent of grass, mixed 
with the smell of his own blood. He saw the shadow coming back. 
My God, he thought again, before retching the last of his soul away. 

The ramparts of the fort welcomed them in a protective embrace. 
The fighters tossed and turned, curling up under blankets and furs, 
beside the fire. Few had the strength to retell and relive the day 
of battle. There would be time for that tomorrow, when they had 
rejoined the world 

Peter sat down, too exhausted even to blink. The words of Uncle 
Joseph and John Butler reached him in flurries. They had repelled 

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the rebels, inflicted severe losses upon them, but soon others would 
come. They had to stand firm. Give Carleton time to organize the 
defenses of the city. 

Peter was listening, but his mind was elsewhere. 

He felt Joseph’s hand on his shoulder. 

“You did well today. Molly can be proud of you. Sleep now.” 

The boy lay down, but took a long time to get to sleep. Each 
time he closed his eyes he saw Tacroix’s attack, and then the warrior 
waiting for them on the bank of the river, covered in blood from 
head to toe. Oronhyateka and Kanenonte stepped aside as he passed, 
fearful and admiring. And Tacroix’s face: beneath the drying blood, 
every muscle had frozen. His lips were dry and cracked, the bed of a 
dead, sun-beaten river. The Devil walked on. They saw him stop fifty 
yards further on and take oft his clothes, oblivious to everything, 
and walk heavily into the water, where he washed the blood from his 
skin with big, rough slaps. Peter had looked at his uncle. Joseph had 
stared for a long time at his old comrade-in-arms. 

Peter twisted in the blanket. 

Through his eyelids, he saw the flames flicker to the rhythm of the 
drum and the bagpipes. 

A dance of war and death. 

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Ramezay Castle wasn’t a real castle. No towers and turrets, just the 
big chimney pots on the plunging roof. Transported to the Irish 
countryside, the governors house would have looked like a big farm. 
In London it might have been mistaken for an army barracks. 

For the first time since he had been in Canada, Guy Johnson left 
the building behind him and crossed the garden. Warm rays of sun 
drenched the haze. Three conversations with Carleton, so many 
stabs in the back. 

That morning, a messenger from Sir John had brought news to 
the Mohawk camp. The rebels were throwing their weight about in 
the valley. They had arrested two Scotsmen as they were mounting 
guard on the road near Johnson Hall. The situation was rapidly 
deteriorating. According to rumors, the men from the Department 
were coveted prey. They wouldn’t risk touching Sir John, not yet, 
but for all the others, going home was too risky. In Albany prison 
the gallows were ready. 

The messenger had only just arrived and already McLeod was asking 
permission to pack. The Highlanders had come back from Fort St. 
Johns exploding with resentment. They had fought bravely, they had 
repelled the enemy. Two days later, Carleton had sent a company to 
replace them. Thanks a lot, back you go to the city, maybe we’ll need 
you again one day. Used and set aside as soon as possible. Carleton 
preferred to defend Canada on his own, or deluded himself that the 
French peasants would give him a hand, rather than concede anything 
to the Johnsons and the Indian Department. No one wanted to 
fight for the governor anymore. Even the Indians were burning with 
disappointment. Fighting at the drop of a hat was normal for them, 
but they hated clashes without booty, without scalps, without honor 
and gifts to reward the warriors. 

Your familiarity with the Indians would be very useful to us in Fort 
Niagara, Colonel Johnson. 

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i 3 o 


Niagara, at the other end of Lake Ontario. The best place to go 
and rot, surrounded by Seneca, on the edges of the world. 

Guy passed through the railing and dismissed the coach with a 
nod of his head. He wanted to walk, to stretch his bones. Perhaps 
the warmth of the day would dissolve the knot that he felt in his 
neck. Every day he felt lower, squashed like a snake under a rock, a 
rock warmed by the sun. He had to get out of this deadlock, make 
the right choice, go for broke. But what ? 

He wouldn’t go to Fort Niagara, that much was certain. A place of 
soldiers and fur traders, where the only possible diplomacy involved 
licking the feet of a bunch of haughty and arrogant sachems. 

Going back to Guy Park was too dangerous. 

And then there was the more serious matter, the second dagger 
blow from governor Carleton. 

Colonel Johnson, Lieutenant Claus: Let me introduce Major John 
Campbell, who has just arrived from England to take up the post of 
superintendent of the Canadian Indians. 

John Campbell, the man from London, well connected in the 
capital’s drawing rooms, stormed onto the scene overnight to oust 
Daniel Claus and remind Guy that his position was barely safer than 
the German’s. Not safe enough to feel at ease, immune to further 
ignominies. Leaving the scene might mean disappearing forever, 
giving up being Sir William’s successor. 

What was to be done ? 

Not even the Old Man had ever found himself in such a maze. 
The more he thought of it the more convinced he was. There was 
little point wondering what William would have done in his place. 
The banal reply was that no Bighead Carleton would have dared 
treat Sir William like that. The Old Man had come to Montreal to 
conquer the city with six hundred Indians, not to kick his heels in a 
castle that looked like a farm. 

St. Paul Street swarmed with carts heading for the market. The 
doorways of the shops selling tea, furs, spirits and cloth were framed 
with inscriptions that climbed up the facades all the way to the 
first-floor windows, declaiming the quality and the variety of the 
goods. From the backs of the open shops you could see the walls 
and a coming and going of porters that revealed the proximity of 
the river, with the waterfront and the masts of the vessels crowding 
around the wharfs. 

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I 3 I 

In front of Our Lady’s chapel, a group of Caughnawagas was 
chanting the rosary to earn alms from the passers by. The women 
going into the churches held little model ships. They must have been 
ex votos, symbols of prayers uttered for husbands at the mercy of the 
sea. Guy wanted to kneel down before the Virgin of the mariners, to 
ask for help against the gales of the past few months. He approached 
the door, but the red uniform he was wearing immediately attracted 
attention, and he changed his mind. 

As he returned to the main road, with his hand around the back 
of his neck, a woman of the people started walking beside him. 

“Escuse, sir, you tres mal. Your shadow is heavy.” 

“What’s that you say?” Guy asked. 

The woman spoke quickly, a mixture of English and French, but 
neither seemed to be her language. She was of indefinable race: her 
features were European, her skin dark, her eyes slightly elongated, 
her lips the fleshy lips of the Africans. 

“Your shadow is heavy,” she pointed to the ground. “You will 
leave, you understand? Death follows you. Beyond le lac” 

Guy gave a start and gripped her wrist. “Are you giving me the 
evil eye ?” 

“No, sir, Massoula not do that. The Virgin weeps for your grief.” 

Guy thought his brain was going to explode, that the street was 
the deck of a storm-tossed vessel. He clenched his fists, as he had 
when he had seen the incision. As he had when he saw the child, 
motionless under the bandages. 

“ Bandoka has made his nest id” the woman touched herself at 
the nape of her neck. “Inside your neck, and now he hurts tres mal” 

As if woken by a necromancer, Guy remembered that he was 
in Montreal, in a side-alley oft St. Paul Street, with a witch called 
Massoula, who knew lots of things about him, from his darkest 
misfortunes to the pains in his brain. 

With a wave of her fingers, the woman invited him to follow her. 

“ Venez , just a piece of small change, come avec moi" 

Guy hesitated. All he needed was a trick by a French pickpocket 
to bring the day to a fine end. The woman walked a hundred yards or 
so and disappeared into an inn below the city walls. A moment later 
she reappeared and waved her arm to summon him. Guy followed 
her, thinking that in an inn on the street there was no need to fear 
being ambushed. 

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Reaching the doorway, he thought again. On the wall, a print 
of King George was hung upside down. The eyes of the customers 
leaped at the stranger in the red uniform like hungry cats at a 
helpless lobster. No one seemed pleased to see him, and to judge 
by the curses and the spitting on the ground, no one wanted to 
demonstrate the opposite. 

The woman was sitting in a corner and Guy hurried to join her. As 
soon as he was sitting down, the French mob went back to studying 
its cards and glasses. He thought he could hear the rustle of blades 
slipped back into scabbards. 

“You have boku. de bandoka, sir, vreman boku. A wicked man is 
coming from tres far away, across the sea, he too sent by bandoka. 
You must cut, Massoula tell you how. Then shadow light again, neck 
light, you free.” 

A wicked man, from very far away. In his mind’s eye, Guy saw the 
elegant face of Campbell, his short wig and pale complexion. 

“Bandoka take away the house, then the family, then the travay, 
then the argent, then the money. In the end he take away the shadow 
and you be lost.” 

Guy shivered and managed with some difficulty to keep from 
ordering a brandy. The list of misfortunes sounded like a ritual 
formula, but it was hard not to recognize in it the trickle of the last 
few wretched months. 

“Tell me about the man who is crossing the sea.” 

“Yes, he bring bandoka, but also he bring solution. You must cut 
the root du mall ’ 

The woman seemed about to finish the sentence, then lowered 
her eyes to the table, as though suddenly exhausted. 

“What solution? Come on, talk, here’s half a crown.” 

“You know this, not Massoula.” 

Guy gripped the woman’s hand as she stretched out her 
fingers to grip the money. He felt he was being swindled, the 
usual cheap trick: they hit on a detail and then proceeded with 
nonsense and riddles. He was about to get up, but before his 
buttocks left the bench, he saw Campbell’s face, heard his words 
in his ears. 

The Colonial Ministry asks me to give you this letter and requests 
that you send as soon as possible a list of failures and complaints on the 
part of His Majesty’s Indian allies. 

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r 33 

Campbell had brought a letter from Lord Dartmouth, the 
Secretary of State for the Colonies. A list of complaints, that was 
what they were asking for in London. 

Guy’s grip relaxed and Massoula slipped the coin under her 

“Always keep this with you, monsieur .” The witch slipped 
something across the table. “To cut the root du mal, to face le 

The woman quickly got to her feet and reached the door before 
Guy could stop her. He looked at the little object on the table. It 
was only a pendant, carved from a pierced shell. He shook his head, 
picked it up and stuffed it into his pocket. 

He left the inn, stunned and weary. He quickened his pace as the 
midday sun cast honeyed reflections on the rooftops. 

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There’s a bear in the forest. 

Every night it comes out to cut the animals’ throats. 

Its blood-heavy paws scrape at the door. 

The pallor of her skin, smooth as ivory, brought out the outlines 
of Molly’s eyes and lips. She pointed out to Joseph the limit of the 
patch of trees, where the branches were violently shaken. Joseph was 
aware of the presence of the beast, and he was afraid. 

Tell my son he must drive the leviathan back into the abyss. 

Into the depth of the forest that gave birth to it. 

Where the sun cannot penetrate. 

Joseph wanted to ask why Peter had to be the one to risk the 
mortal undertaking. 

Molly rose up hugely, her expression a black flame. 

The road back takes you to what you were, not to what you will be. 

Go, and what you must do, do quickly. 

Or there will be no rainbows, nor good omens, nor harvest. 

Why Peter ? 

Every link in the chain is in its exact place. 

You cannot see the beginning of the chain or its end. 

Not even I can do that. 

Not even the dead. 

A warning hoot came from the hills. When Joseph turned again 
to look at his sister, in her place a she-wolf was running toward the 

Wild animals took shelter. 

The turtle slipped deeper into the mud of the pond. 

The sun was eclipsed, the last ray of light touched the wings of 
an eagle. 

From the center of the vegetation, the bear, vast and ferocious, 
came forward, breaking plants and branches. 

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J 35 

When he woke up, Joseph found the warriors ready to leave. Many 
blankets were already rolled up and the first boats were on the water. 

For the Mohawks the Canadian campaign was over. The larches 
were yellowing, it was time to hunt and prepare for winter. At home, 
wives and children were suffering the abuse of the settlers. Soon 
some would be returning to Canajoharie. The wisest of them, or the 
most compromised, would spend the winter in Oswego. 

Cormac McTeod and his Highlanders were leaving as well. Sir 
John was in danger, and his guard of honor was returning to protect 

Joseph was homesick for Susanna and the children. If he had been 
at home, that night he would have lain down in bed and forgotten 
all his worries, for a few hours at least, but he couldn’t go back. He 
was Thayendanegea, Two Sticks Bound Together, destined to unite 
the Mohawks and the white men. The last request of Sir William 
on the point of death. In the end, what does an interpreter do if 
not bind together words, men and things ? Joseph was a creature of 
the Department, he had grown up under the Johnsons’ wing. If the 
family sun darkened, he would be the first to be left in the cold, and 
after him the whole of the nation. 

He also had to decide about Peter. The boy was a Johnson and 
he was a Mohawk. He had fought, he was up to it, but now Molly 
wanted something else from him. 

He could have spoken of the dream with the oldest warriors, but 
Tekarihoga, too, was saying farewell. The turtle was returning to the 
pond, with goodwill formulas and crisp words of good omen for 
those who remained. Joseph could not have said who was in greater 
need of help from heaven, those who remained or those who were 
preparing to return. He saw Oronhyateka and Kanenonte, side 
by side. They were staring at the middle of the river. At their feet, 
blankets, weapons, two water bottles. He walked over to greet them. 

“You go home too, Thayendanegea,” said Kanenonte. “War, here, 
is not as we dreamed it.” 

“We will fight in Canajoharie,” added Oronhyateka. “If you stay 
here, the spiders will spin their web around the trigger of your rifle.” 

“What happens at home still depends on what happens here,” 
Joseph replied. “And that, too, depends on me.” 

Beyond the river, Joseph smelled rain, and felt a terrible stitch in 
the middle of his chest. 

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i 3 6 


Oronhyateka thoughtfully scratched his chin. 

“You are my brother, Thayendanegea,” said Kanenonte. “But you 
speak like one of those white politicians.” 

Joseph smiled. “My lips will bathe themselves again with the 
water of the Mohawk. But not now.” 

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The most important thing for Colonel Ethan Allen: being treated as a 
gentleman. Woe to him who dared to do the opposite. He had a ready 
reply for anyone who provoked him, rich or poor, friend or stranger. He 
hadn’t been able to study very much, but he did know how to talk and 
persuade. His fingers were stubby but they plucked the right strings. He 
had made memorable the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, an enterprise 
that had been considered impossible, by pronouncing a perfect phrase. 
He had had the fort delivered to him “in the name of the great Jehovah 
and the Continental Congress.” A great phrase, one of those that roll 
beyond misunderstanding, strong in one single meaning: Ethan Allen 
was impelled by the finger of God. His fame had barely left home, and 
already the light of legend was rising behind the hill. Colonel Ethan 
Allen was a conqueror and that was his strategy. 

In the name of Jehovah? Not really. Ethan didn’t believe in the 
God of the Anglicans or of the Papists. He didn’t believe in the 
Lord of the Bible, a furious avenger, a sender of rape, slaughter and 
pillage. His God was the higher force that governs the universe, and 
he prayed to him with Reason, not with psalms or by eating insipid 
bread. Ethan’s God was the intelligence that bridles and organizes 
nature. The Supreme Being who enlightens Man and enables him to 
affirm his Freedom. 

The most important thing for Colonel Ethan Allen: being 
treated as a gentleman. Immediately after the taking of Ticonderoga 
he had betaken himself to Philadelphia, where the Congress was in 
permanent session. He had demanded to be received and to speak 
before the representatives. The new stage of his strategy: those 
gentlemen could not refuse to welcome the man who had fought in 
their name and in the name of Jehovah. How could one do wrong to 
the Goliath of the Green Mountains ? 

Ethan had spread the rumor of his coming, the crowds were 
filling the streets of Philadelphia to catch a glimpse of him. In 

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i 3 8 


his oration he had asked for recog-nition of the Green Mountain 
Boys as a fighting force, allies of the Continental Army. For those 
bandits turned heroes, he demanded the same payment as the other 
soldiers. He claimed their right to choose under which officer to 
serve. In exchange, they would continue to risk their lives for the 
cause of Freedom. The Congress had consulted General Schuyler 
and fulfilled his every request. 

Ethan Allens problem: his leg sometimes failed in its stride, and 
his foot was left hanging in midair; it fell back and dragged his 
whole body with it. Ethan feared those moments. 

Twenty-third of September, 1775. An evening like no other, 
along the eastern bank of the St. Tawrence. Ideas flooded his mind. 
The most burning of all: to take Montreal. He had persuaded Major 
John Brown: a sudden attack, a daring, spirited action. They would 
take Montreal with their men alone. The last blow of the chisel, 
Allen had thought. To finish the masterpiece begun in Ticonderoga 
five months before. To take Montreal before General Montgomery, 
to get there ahead of the Continental Army. 

He didn’t yet have the phrase ready. The verse, the distich, but 
in warlike prose, well-rounded, polished, to be spoken at the right 
moment, a projectile of syllables to be fired all the way to London. 
Everyone would repeat those words. Nonetheless, first he had to 
line them up, and every syllable counted, every scrap of imagery that 
he could blow toward the enemy. When you elaborate a big theme, 
you also have to take care of the tiny details. 

Ethan Allen would cross the St. Lawrence at Longueil, on a 
moonless night, and reach Montreal from the north. Brown would 
cross the prairie before heading south. At the first light of day, 
pressing on both sides, they would catch Montreal in a vise. No, that 
image wasn’t quite right: pulling on both sides, they would open it 
by force. Like the doors of a wardrobe, pulled barehanded from 
their hinges to reveal history. The sole preoccupation: to make sure 
the reach matched the grasp. 

The night was the bottom of a well, nothing could be seen, the 
blanket of cold air weighed down on his neck and back. Ethan felt 
the wind faintly stinging his hands. 

A hundred and ten men, including eighty Canadians willing to 
fight with the patriots. There were few canoes and they had to make 

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three journeys, with the danger of being surprised halfway across 
the river, one foot in Longueil and the other in midair. 

The crossing of the St. Lawrence took all night. Ahead of them, 
their eyes saw nothing. 

Dawn was still a snail trail when Allen placed sentries all around 
the camp. He had crossed his Rubicon. Who can say whether Caesar 
spoke his most famous phrase straight away? Was it born as it fell 
from his lips, or had it been considered for a long time, molded by 
the leader, his tongue uniting with his teeth? The die is cast. Perfect, 
lucid, immortal. 

Allen resolved to wait for the signal: three loud shouts would 
come from the throats of Brown’s men, tearing holes in the dawn 

The birds were already busy with their orchestra rehearsals. Allen 
cocked his ears. 

Two hours later, half the sky was bathed in light. The dew was 
melting away, leaving the fields, and still no shout had been heard. 
Where had Brown got to ? It had been his idea, the sudden attack, 
the daring action. Allen looked around: the men were losing the will 
to fight, to throw themselves into the imminent future like bears on 
a hive of honey. A night’s crossing and hours of waiting slacken the 
nerves, dampen the powder that fires the heart. Nothing but kicked 
heels, shrugged shoulders, rubbed hands and yawning. They looked 
at each other furtively, spoke in an undertone, pointed to Allen with 
brief nods of the head. 

Allen was sure of it: Brown wouldn’t come. They couldn’t have 
discovered him; the air and the St. Lawrence would have carried 
the echo of battle. He wasn’t there and that was that, no point 
wondering how. The Rubicon was behind them, but the die was 
only half cast. His foot was heavy and, as it fell, it unbalanced his 
body. Meanwhile blue was conquering the sky. 

Allen toyed with the idea of going back, crossing the ochre 
river, setting foot in Longueil. Impossible, it would take hours, the 
enemy would discover them. The only thing to do was maintain his 
position, but for how long? 

Ethan sighed. The day of mysteries and impossible choices. The 
enemy would come. 

And give battle, then. 

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36 . 

The news arrived quickly: the rebels were close, very close, and 
preparing to attack. It wasn’t the Continental Army that was 
threatening Montreal — these were irregulars, and they were under 
the command of Ethan Allen. 

They had to go out soon, with all their available forces. Engage in 
battle before the conqueror of Ticonderoga was in sight of the city. 

The men of the Department — Joseph, Philip, Peter, Guyjohnson, 
the Butlers — joined the makeshift force that would block the way of 
the Green Mountain Goliath. Barely forty regular soldiers, merging 
with a multitude of militiamen, in jackets and hats of every shape 
and color. Civilian volunteers in hunting outfits, rangers, warriors 
of the nations of Canada, especially Caughnawaga. 

Peter stared at the warrior next to him. Le Grand Diable. He 
thought. Whatever happens, I will follow him. 

He thought of the man they were about to face. He was said to 
be practically a giant. Peter remembered the tales around the fire, 
Walter Butler’s face beyond the flickering flames. 

To follow Le Grand Diable. Peter discovered that behind his 
fear there was something else. Excitement and a new feeling, solid, 
unexpected. Determination. He already knew battle, the thunder of 
the cannon in your ears, the ground trembling beneath your feet. He 
had seen death. The only way to avoid it was to win. 

The two formations made contact at around two in the afternoon. 
Volleys of rifle fire exchanged in the distance, from one end of a 
wide clearing to the other. And yet the enemy was changing shape, 
losing its compactness, thinning out in chaotic flights. 

Suddenly, Lacroix waved his hand. The men moved. 

Joseph, Lacroix and Peter advanced slowly, heads held low, with 
Walter Butler and a little group of Caughnawaga, over an arc about 
fifty yards across. They clung to the bushes and slipped along the 

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H 1 

side of the enemy forces. The bullets buzzed above them, heavy, 
clumsy insects. 

The men took up position behind large pine trunks on the edge 
of the clearing. The rebels hadn’t noticed anything. 

Peter saw a tall, stout man shrieking orders amid the rattle of 
the rifles. He strode along the rank of rebels, kneeling behind the 
tree trunks and in holes in the terrain. His unsteady, nervous gait 
was that of an animal in a trap. He furiously roared commands, 
he clawed the air with his hands, pointed where to shoot. Peter 
understood: the man in front of him was Goliath. 

The boy took a step forward. Fear gripped his innards. He forced 
his body to move again, until he found himself beside Tacroix. The 
two men exchanged a long look. 

Peter’s mind became clear and light. His decision ignited in the 
blink of an eye, a flash. 

Peter emerged from hiding. He moved smoothly toward a rock 
that seemed to have been placed in the field by the hand of God. 

Joseph and Tacroix followed him. Once they were hidden again, 
Joseph gave Peter a nod of approval. The boy threw himself forward. 
Joseph sent a signal to the Caughnawaga, who went on the attack, 
rushing to the side of the rebel armies. 

The enemy retreated, scattered, took flight. Two stopped to fire on Peter. 
Joseph took aim while running and wounded one in the shoulder. Before 
the other man could work out where the shot had come from, Tacroix 
struck him down with the butt of his rifle. Peter went on with the chase. 

Ethan Allen had already run a mile. Every now and again he 
stumbled. Another few steps and he fell, exhausted. 

Peter was on top of him, panting. He aimed the rifle. 

“You’re defeated. Surrender.” 

His voice breaking with exhaustion, Allen replied, “My men will 
not surrender arms without the guarantee of honorable treatment. 
I demand your word.” 

Peter, confused, looked behind him. Uncle Joseph and the Great 
Devil calmly approached. 

“Order the savages to stay away from me,” said Allen. 

“You are my prisoner. You have my word,” replied Peter. 

Allen surrendered his saber. 

Peter raised it in the air, turned toward the warriors and uttered 
the war cry of the Wolf clan. 

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37 . 

Night enfolded the Island of Montreal, the city, the camp outside 
the walls. An owl hooted through the mist rising from the river. 
From inside the tent, Guy could see a quarter moon partially hidden 
by the clouds. 

He was sitting at the field table, by the faint light of a lamp, 
rubbing his aching neck. He observed the first shadow on the 
oilcloth. It looked twisted and deformed. 

Your shadow is heavy. You will leave. 

In his head, the cry of the owl mingled with the witch’s words. 
Guy stretched out a hand, as if to grasp his own silhouette. 
Without thinking he drew out the amulet that the witch had sold 
him. From the day of that encounter he had always carried it in 
his pocket, solely out of superstition. He set it down on the table, 
under the flickering light of the oil lamp, and suddenly he felt 
ridiculous. Half smiling, he thought that he’d had a little luck after 
all: now he had a famous prisoner, the great Ethan Allen, locked 
up in the corral and under the strict surveillance of trusted guards. 
The last ones remaining. 

Guy sighed and turned serious again. They had all gone away, the 
Scots, the Mohawks. He was alone with a decision that had to be 
made. It meant the choice was his, but that didn’t make things any 

Fort Niagara or Mohawk Valley. Or perhaps staying there, 
waiting for the rebel army to appear on the riverbank. But there 
was no point in waiting. Carleton’s position was plain: the governor 
had no intention of defending Montreal, and never had. Each order 
had served only to gain him time and send Guy’s men away. Now 
Carleton would retreat to Quebec, where he could count on the 
support of the fleet. 

Guy felt it was no longer a rock that was squashing him, but an 
avalanche, a whole mountain collapsing on top of him. His neck 

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was stiff' and tense. He started rubbing it hard. What had the witch 
called it? The nest of bandoka. Of course, misfortune. 

He dismissed the thought of that woman and began rereading his 
letter to the Secretary of State. He had listed in detail the remaining 
territorial issues and the infringements by the settlers against the 
Indians. He had written well, but looking at the page he had a sense 
that it would condemn him to oblivion. He had even signed it. 

He got to his feet and walked into the darkness, back bent. It 
wasn’t just his stiff neck; the lice were driving him crazy. The camp 
was infested with them. He returned to the opening of the tent and 
studied the night again. 

Sending that letter had been an act of abdication. They had 
asked him to tell the government about the remaining issues in the 
Mohawk valley, because other people might be able to sort them 
out. What remained in store for him was the same treatment that 
had surprised Claus. Discarded after years of honorable service. 

The German had shut himself away in stubborn silence, even 
though some people maintained that they had heard him cursing in 
his own language during the night. Curses meant for Carleton and 
Campbell, in all likelihood. 

Guy sat on the bunk, head in hands. He wished his wife were by his 
side, he wished he could feel her warm hand massaging the tension 
away. He missed her. And he missed his daughters. He had to think of 
them too, left behind in Oswego. On his lips he formulated a prayer 
for Mary’s soul and asked God to protect the girls. 

He went back to the table: pen, inkpot, blotter. The little stick 
of sealing wax and Sir William’s seal. If they unseated him, he 
would keep it as a memento. He turned it around in his hands. 
It represented the patriarch’s coat of arms: two Indians holding a 
shield with three shells in the middle. At the bottom, the Old Man’s 
motto. Deo Regique Debeo. 

I am indebted to God and the king. 

Guy froze. His eye ran to the witch Massoula’s pendant: a shell. 
It wasn’t the coincidence that gave him gooseflesh, but the echo of 
her words. 

The man crossing the sea bring bandoka, but he also bring solution. 

Campbell was coming from England. The solution he was 
bringing was not the request from the ministry. The solution was 
crossing the sea. 

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Guy gave a start. The idea stuck in his mind, so much so that it 
canceled the pain in his neck. 

Cut the root du mal. 

Win back the warrants of appointment. 

With the help of God and by the will of the king. 

“You want to take the letter to Lord Dartmouth in person ?” 

Daniel Claus uttered the question with eyes wide, his hands 
clutching the arms of the chair. 

John Butler’s reaction was calmer. The old captain didn’t move a 
muscle, but it was plain that his ears were cocked. 

Guy Johnson glanced first at one and then at the other. He had 
the look of someone who hasn’t slept a wink, but for the first time 
in weeks he also looked determined. 

They were in his tent. Guy had summoned the two others only 
mid-morning, so as not to alarm anyone, not even the directly 
interested parties. He didn’t want one of Carleton’s spies to learn of 
his intention. It was hot and activity in the camp was sluggish. 

“You understood correctly, Mr. Claus,” said Guy. “And on this 
occasion I will request an audience with His Majesty. To draw his 
attention to our family. The Johnsons have served him faithfully for 
more than thirty years, and he can’t deny what is owed us by right. I 
am referring, obviously, to the warrant of appointment to the post 
of Superintendent of Indian Affairs.” 

After days governed by a black mood and muttered insults, the 
German roused himself. 

“It’s three thousand miles of ocean and winter is on its way.” 

Guy nodded without losing his composure. 

“So there’s no time to lose.” 

Butler looked into the bottom of the hat that he held in his lap. 

“None of us knows London, let alone the labyrinth of the court. 
Our fortune is here in America.” 

“I am well aware of that, Captain Butler,” Guy replied, “but at the 
moment it seems to have run out. Without warrants of appointment 
we can no longer administer the Indians, no one will defend us, our 
names will fall into oblivion. Sir William would never have accepted 
such an unworthy end. I say we must try.” 

“It will take us months, years, to obtain an audience with the 
king,” Claus objected. 

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“That’s true. But we will bring a gift to His Majesty. And it is hard 
to deny a welcome to those who bring gifts.” 

Puzzled, the two gentlemen stared at Guy. 

“The leader of the rebels, gentlemen. He is the man who took 
Ticonderoga, and we have taken him. We will drag him in chains to 
the feet of George III.” 

An evil smile spread across Claus’s face: “Tike Vercingetorix 
before Caesar. This is a stroke of genius, Mr. Johnson.” 

“With all due respect,” Butler broke in, “it sounds more like a stab 
in the dark.” 

“Perhaps it is, Captain,” Guy replied, “but I don’t think we have 
much to lose.” 

“Superintendent Johnson is right,” said Claus. “All roads are 

“It’s clear that we have to bring Indians with us,” Guy continued. 
“Someone who speaks on behalf of many and can impress the court.” 
The German thought out loud: “Our sachems have left.” 

“We have Joseph Brant,” Guy suggested. “The only one who 
hasn’t yet abandoned us. He’s a war chief, and he speaks English. 
And don’t forget the little David who slew Goliath. Peter Johnson 
will be our passepartout. For the name that he bears.” 

Claus’s eyes flashed again. 

“We have an Indian delegation. All that remains is to find a ship.” 
They both turned toward the old Irishman. 

“Do you still keep your reserves, Captain?” 

John Butler got up energetically and took a step toward Guy. 
“Tisten to me carefully, Johnson. I will be very open with you. I 
have learned one thing from Sir William: Without the Indians we 
are nothing. They are our strength, our guarantee. The Indians don’t 
look at warrants of appointment, they look at faces. You won’t find 
the solution to our troubles in Tondon.” 

“So you don’t want to be of the party.” 

Guy’s tone was embittered and sincere. 

“I’m sorry,” Butler replied. “My son and I have decided to go 
to Niagara. This war is taking an ugly turn. The Seneca have more 
warriors than any other tribe, and they’re the ones we have to 
convince. Not some Tondon fop, with the greatest respect.” 

A moment of silence followed. Then Butler pressed his hat down 
on his head and shook hands with the others. 

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“Good luck, gentlemen. May God go with you.” 

They watched him walk away in the day’s bright sunlight. 

“You didn’t have to insist too hard to convince him,” said Claus. 

“He had already made his choice. Perhaps it’s better that way.” 

Guy sat back down at the table and stretched his legs. The German 
pressed him: “What will we do now ? What about our families ? You 
can’t plan to leave them in Oswego.” 

“Of course not. We must recruit an escort and go and get them. I 
entrust that task to you, Mr. Claus.” 

The German fell back on the bunk bed. That morning’s news had 
weakened him. 

“And what about you?” 

“I will go to Quebec and spend the last of the Department’s 
money,” said Guy. “We need a trustworthy ship, captain and crew. 
I will make sure that upon your return you find a quick means of 
transport to join me.” 

“You need someone who will protect you, sir.” 

The Irishman nodded to himself as he poured spirits into a pair of 
glasses and passed one of them to Claus. 

“I have an excellent bodyguard. Joseph Brant. And I recommend 
one for you: Philip Tacroix. His name inspires respect all along the 
St. Tawrence.” 

Guy clinked his glass against the German’s. 

“To King George and our voyage.” 

Claus gulped his drink down without a word, somewhere 
between enthusiasm and apprehension. 

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38 . 

Standing on the wharf, wrapped in a heavy red blanket, Joseph 
watched the fishing boats setting their prows northward, toward the 
estuary and the open sea. Only a few returned upstream. Migration 
time: flocks of migrating birds crossed the sky. How far from home 
were they? 

At first, Joseph had been stunned by the decision. It sounded 
like the words of a madman: not Fort Niagara, but London. Being 
received by the colonial ministry, if possible by King George in 

During the passage of the migratory birds there were some species 
heading northward, in the opposite direction to the flow of wings 
that plowed the sky. Winter’s flying children, who sought refuge 
in its icy, open jaws. If the Lord had granted so much courage and 
resilience to these feathered creatures, he must have granted all the 
more to man, or at least to certain men, Joseph thought. Daring had 
become necessary: the vise that gripped the People of the Flint had 
broken at the handle. 

Joseph could turn Guy Johnson’s desperate move to his 
advantage, to the advantage of the Mohawks and the Six Nations. 
The superintendent needed him and he made no secret of it: if 
he wanted to show that he had the Iroquois on his side he had to 
bring representatives of the League with him. If he managed to 
have himself received at court, Joseph could extract direct pledges, 
concrete guarantees about the lands and borders that would have to 
be respected. Hendrick had already managed to do this many years 
before. As a gift they were bringing the head of the rebels, escorted 
by the warrior who had captured him, a young Mohawk who was 
the son of the great William Johnson. It wasn’t crazy to imagine a 
warm welcome in London. 

Going back upstream to the icy heart of Empire was an act of 
courage, not one of irresponsibility. 

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From the wharf, Joseph had observed the Abenaki boatmen 
tying up two canoes. They were escorting Daniel Claus and Philip 
Lacroix to Oswego, to bring back the Johnson women. Less than 
twenty years previously the men of that tribe had fought beside the 
French against the Mohawks. Now they took orders from Le Grand 
Diable, the most feared of all their former enemies. The team had 
left quickly and quietly, the better to avoid having many rumors 
head downriver faster than they themselves could travel. Members 
of the Johnson family were a precious cargo. 

When the little convoy had taken to the water, Joseph and 
Lacroix had greeted one another with a nod of assent, as they had 
done years before. Over the past few weeks the bond between them 
had solidified. As ever, Molly’s visions proved to be impressively 

The sound of footsteps attracted Joseph’s attention. The figure of 
John Butler was approaching. 

The old soldier came and stood beside him. 

“You and Lacroix would be very useful to me in Fort Niagara,” he 
said. “The Seneca admire courage.” 

“I’m a man of the Department,” Joseph replied. “I have given my 
word to Guy Johnson.” 

The Irishman nodded. 

“I hope you don’t come to regret it. God be with you, Joseph 

Joseph shook the hand that Butler offered him. The flocks 
pursued their course. 

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The air didn’t yet smell of sun when Esther felt the blanket slipping 
away and a voice telling her to get up, quickly, they had to go. She 
shook off the straw and tried to do the same with her sleep, but it 
remained stuck to her eyes. It had been a hard night. The attic where 
they had been put up was full of corncobs and Esther remembered 
what her mother had said, not to play in the granary, because snakes 
are greedy for corn. If her mother had been there, she would never 
have agreed to their being made to sleep in such a place. But she 
wasn’t there any more, and Esther hadn’t slept. 

Before leaving Oswego, Aunt Nancy had brought her and her 
sisters to leave a bunch of flowers on the grave. They had a long way 
to go, to reach their father. He was waiting for them in the port at 
the end of the Great River, where the ocean began. 

Why he hadn’t come to collect them, Esther couldn’t understand. 
He had sent Uncle Daniel, with Indian boatmen and the man they 
called the Great Devil. Crammed into bark canoes, they had crossed 
the lake and entered the river. 

In the big kitchen, Judith and Sarah were making breakfast: milk 
and biscuits. Esther hated that. Listening to four mouths chewing 
on that stuff made her stomach churn. She asked for bread and 
honey, but there was none left. Aunt Nancy offered her a biscuit 
smeared with grease. 

“Eat something, you have some walking to do today.” 

Esther asked no questions; she was no longer a child. On boat 
journeys you had to walk as well, she knew that now. It mattered 
little whether the danger to be avoided was a rapid, a shallow or 
something else besides. 

She opened the door and breathed in cold air. The sound of a 
liquid ripple betrayed the presence of the river, hidden by a blanket 
of trees and fog. Esther threw the biscuit to the pigs and looked 

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In the farmyard, the Devil was speaking in French to the master of 
the house, a gentleman with a braid who stank of garlic and tobacco. 
The Indians were crouched over the remains of the fire, eating strips 
of roast meat. 

Uncle Daniel and the serving girl came out of the farmhouse in 
total silence. On their backs they carried Judith and a cousin, in the 
Indian slings that are used to carry children. They lined up behind 
the boatman who was acting as their guide, while the others loaded 
the canoes onto their backs, to bring up the rear along with the 

“Adieu. Bon courage the Frenchman called from the doorway. 

The road wasn’t a wide one built for coaches and horses. They 
walked between brambles, amidst grass and mosquitoes. Their feet 
sank into the mud and didn’t come out again. 

Sarah began complaining after half an hour’s march. Her face 
looked as if a cat had jumped into it to sharpen its claws. She was 
crying, her feet hurt, she was thirsty. 

As the serving girl passed her the water bottle, the Devil came 
over and offered to load her onto a canoe. Esther expected that her 
sister would start wailing. One evening, to frighten her, she had told 
her that the Indian really was Satan and he had come to take them 
to Hell. Instead she sniffed and offered her arms to the Devil, who 
lifted her up and set her down in the boat. 

After a quick and inedible lunch, pemmican and honey, Aunt 
Nancy’s older daughter also caved in, and ended up sitting in the 
other canoe. Esther resumed her march, proud that no one had to 
transport her like the other girls. 

It didn’t take long. Soon her weariness vanquished her pride. 
She hadn’t eaten since the previous evening, her clothes were torn, 
her skin stung from the scratches, blisters swelled her feet. Her legs 
no longer responded, they were tree trunks that had to be dragged 
through the forest, and with each obstacle they came to a standstill. 

Esther slumped to the ground, her head spinning. She saw the 
Devil coming over and instinctively hugged his knees, as if seeking 
shelter from an icy wind. Suddenly she felt extraneous to the scene. 
She observed herself from the vantage point of a bird perched on a 
branch. She watched herself stretching out a hand, taking the water 
bottle that was offered to her and bringing it to her lips. 

Maple syrup and water. Even better than honey. 

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b ' 1 

As she drank, she felt an arm slipping around her back, another 
under her thighs. In a moment she found herself on his back, with 
her throat tight and her thoughts upside down. 

He hadn’t lifted little Sarah like that. He’d picked Sarah up under 
the arms, as you do with a child who wants to play. 

Esther was no longer a child, but often grown-ups didn’t notice. 

The Devil had understood. 

The fire slumbered in the shelter. The Devil was sitting down, for 
the first time since they had left, puffing on a thin pipe. He and the 
boatmen had erected the shelter with sticks and oilcloth. He had 
roasted trout and squirrels, and Esther was surprised to find that 
they were good to eat. Aunt Nancy and the serving girl had put the 
girls to bed and flung themselves down to sleep, too exhausted to say 
goodnight. Uncle Daniel was snoring beside her and she couldn’t 
get to sleep. She thought back on the day, on the scratches and the 
swollen feet, on the smiles of the little girls in the canoes, on the 
Devil’s embrace. 

A faint sobbing joined the calls of dormice and owls. Hiding in 
the blankets, Judith wept. Esther turned toward Aunt Nancy, to 
check whether she had heard, but the women were snoring, plunged 
in a far-off world. She was about to get up, but saw the Devil coming 
toward them and preferred to stay lying down, pretending to sleep. 

Behind her half-opened lids she saw him kneel and run a hand 
over her sister’s hair. She heard him whisper something, as the sobs 
faded away. It must have been a lullaby, one of the ones her mother 
knew, and which Esther would have liked to listen to as well. 

The Devil’s voice fell silent. He caressed the girl once more, then 
picked up his pipe and went back toward the fire. 

Esther wasn’t sure that she could see clearly, but she thought she 
was aware of a gesture, fingers brushing his eyes. 

She felt confused. 

She had always known that the Devil was strong. 

He could also be handsome and nice, and flatter people. 

But that he could weep, that was something she had never heard. 

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40 . 

Quebec was a big city carved from the rock. A fairy-tale castle 
dominated the river, the spires of Our Lady, the massive houses 
within the city walls. 

Esther read the name written in gold letters on the prow of the ship. 

Compared with this huge vessel, a giant with its belly in the water, 
the brigantine that had collected them in Montreal was a river sprite. 

They had arrived the previous day, safe and sound, although Aunt 
Nancy was a different person: hollow-cheeked, puffy-eyed, her face 
caught in a net of scratches. The girls looked like animals that had 
escaped from a trap after days of struggling. 

Their father had listened to them praising God, when they should 
really have been thanking the Devil. 

Esther was unaware of her own appearance. She hadn’t found a 
mirror to look at herself in: just enough time to have a hot bath, 
eat, sleep for a few hours, and already the need to leave was pressing. 

They could put it off' no longer, the storekeepers said at the port 
of Quebec. They would have to get a move on, before ice and storms 
blocked the river. They talked about London as they loaded the boat. 
They answered “London” to the questions of curious passers-by. The 
name of the capital filled their conversation, buzzed over their heads, 
was the constant refrain whatever they happened to be talking about . 

London? Impossible, thought Esther. London was beyond the 
ocean. It would take them months to get there, one of those journeys 
you take once in your life, in search of your fortune. 


She stamped the name in her memory, as she climbed on board 
behind her father, who was leading her two sisters by the hand. She 
turned. The Great Devil was at the foot of the ramp, with a sack on 
his back, and he glanced at her. Esther quickly turned round to hide 
her face. Her cheeks flushed. 

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41 . 

The St. Lawrence estuary was a half-breed. A hybrid of different 
waters, saltier than a river, fresher than the ocean. A battlefield for 
opposing currents, high waters and tides that influenced navigation 
all the way to the lakes, in the heart of the continent. Peter thought 
of himself, an estuary between two peoples, both a way out and an 

“It’s like the barrel of a rifle,” he said, pointing to the map. 

“A rifle?” Daniel Claus asked, puzzled. 

“One of those rifles that broaden at the end.” 

“And that makes us the bullets ?” 

“Sure. A bullet of wood, cloth and flesh.” 

“Which would mean that we’re firing on England,” Claus 

Young Johnson shrugged. The game really didn’t seem all that 
important to him. 

“More like a hunting horn,” the other man broke in. 

“What would that make us ?” asked Peter, not to be outdone. 

“We’re the hunting call. The king can’t help hearing us.” 

The St. Lawrence estuary was the darkness of the hold. Thirty men 
in a wooden box, six yards a side, a bucket of putrid water, a basin to 
relieve themselves in, scraps their only food. Ethan Allen had tried 
to rebel, to demand that they treat him as a gentleman, spare him 
the humiliation of fetters, let him speak to Mr. Watson, the owner 
of the ship. 

“I’m a colonel in the Continental American Army,” he had 
protested. “This is how you treat animals, not army officers.” 

Big black rats swam in the bilge that came up to his calves. Allen 
had struck one of them with an angry kick, sending up splashes all 
around him. From the window-slit a pair of yellowish eyes stared 
at him, standing out against dark skin. It happened when you least 

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expected it. He lifted his head and those bovine eyes were there, as 
irritating as the flies drawn by the faeces in the slop-pail. Probably 
the negro didn’t even speak his language. 

“We’re men, not animals!” Allen yelled exasperatedly at those 
dead eyes. “The world will know how King George treats his 

He hurled the metal basin at the window-slit, missing it by a 

When a cavernous voice issued from behind the wooden door, 
the prisoners raised their heads from their own bitterness. No one 
had addressed a word to them since they had been brought down 

“Do you know who I am. Colonel?” 

It was hard to tell whether the voice belonged to that face, because 
the window-slit didn’t reveal the whole face. 

Allen, panting with fury, said nothing. 

“My father was the son of a prince,” the voice continued. The 
words had a deep, sonorous quality. “White men loaded him onto a 
ship like this one, along with many others. So many that they could 
not even sit down in the hold. Half of them died on the crossing. 
You, Colonel, will reach the other side alive. You are fortunate.” 

“I am a free man and I am an officer!” thundered Allen feverishly. 

The eyes did not reply. The slit closed again. 

The St. Tawrence estuary was a slow farewell. 

Hundreds of miles separated Quebec from the ocean. Joseph 
looked at the snowy peaks that the Adamant was leaving behind. 
They seemed to close up as the ship passed, like the waters of the 
Red Sea over Pharaoh’s army. 

If you can’t get back to your starting point, your only choice is to 
continue. To go on, force yourself onward. 

Joseph had woven tapestries of thoughts. In Tondon, like 
Hendrick many years before. How many times had he heard that 
story? Hendrick at the court of Queen Anne. With him was the 
father of Canagaraduncka, Joseph’s stepfather, known as “Brant.” 
Hence the surname that Joseph bore. 

Canagaraduncka had told him many times about the four Indian 
kings who had been received with full honors. In Tondon, Hendrick 
had negotiated for the queen the support of the Six Nations in the 

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J 55 

first of the wars against the French. He had pleaded for an alliance 
among equals. He had been taken to the theater and to court 
receptions. Famous artists had painted his portrait. Everyone had 
bowed as he passed. 

On that voyage, Hendrick must have been Joseph’s age. 

The St. Lawrence estuary was an unexpected reply. 

Behind Guy, sitting on the straw, Nancy Claus was entertaining 
the children. She explained that the river, thousands of years before, 
had dug itself a path to the sea. It had eroded away the granite, 
dragged earth from the banks, felled forests. 

Guy thought that the story told in this way made it sound as if 
the river had decided where to go. 

In fact the St. Lawrence had eroded as much granite as the current 
allowed, not a grain more. It had felled forests as far as the floods 
could climb, and dragged away as much earth as allowed itself to be 

If you considered it carefully, even with all the power of its waters, 
the St. Lawrence had had to make do with the only bed possible. Its 
volition was only an idea, a restricted point of view that didn’t take 
too many details into account. Similarly, he thought, men convince 
themselves that they have choices, but the road they take is always 
the only one at their disposal. 

Guy was the river. He thought he had made the best decision, but 
only because it was the only one possible. 

The river had had to open up the way to the sea so that it wouldn’t 
dry up and die. 

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The Crossing 

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The rocking rhythm was deep and stomach-clenching. The wind 
was free up here, it filled the lungs. Philip Lacroix was engaged in 
a curious face-to-face with the gulls, which were intent on their 
wonderful acrobatics. For a long time his mind lay empty, freed 
from all burdens, and his body reacquired its vigor after the forced 
immobility of stormy days spent below deck. Simple, essential 
gestures: breathing, perceiving his heartbeat and controlling it, 
coordinating his limbs and brain in fluid movements that dissolved 
the accumulated tension. 

As soon as he reached the top, Lacroix had looked down at the 
deck of the Adamant. He was aware of a certain level of activity, a 
coming and going of tiny figures, not without grace. The distorted 
echo of orders and imprecations muffled and devoured by the wind. 
Poor things, humans observed from above. He had turned his 
attention elsewhere. The ocean swelled around on all sides. He felt 
no terror at the sight of its vastness. He felt the stiff, biting cold. He 
felt the power of the mass of water. 

All of a sudden he noticed a pinprick, a faint ache rising from his 
feet. He looked down. He spotted a very small, blurred figure. He 
tried to make out its contours in the majestic morning light. Guy 
Johnson’s eldest daughter, Esther. The girl held a strange, primitive 
power. Her pain and hurt at the death of her mother had made her 
even more sensitive and close to ghosts. Like Molly. 

He became aware of a new presence, someone else climbing the 

Joseph reached the top and sat down beside him. He filled his 
lungs with fresh air. 

Lacroix went on looking at the ocean. 

“Do you think the king will want to meet us ?” 

“The queen met Hendrick,” Joseph replied. 

“Hendrick was a chief. You’re Guy Johnson’s interpreter.” 

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“Not anymore,” Joseph replied. “I’m the ambassador of the 
Mohawk nation. This time the words I say will be mine. Ours.” 

Lacroix nodded, as the words made way for the calls of gulls and 

“We need justice,” Joseph added at the top of his voice. 

“English justice?” 

“The settlers stealing our land are enemies of King George. 
This rebellion is our opportunity to reestablish our rights.” Joseph 
clenched his fist to give greater force to the idea. “The sachems don’t 
understand, they think things will go on as always. And in fact 
everything’s changing.” 

They fell silent again, for longer this time, listening to the wind 
and watching the sails billowing below them. 

Philip Lacroix took another deep breath. Freed from the stench 
of men, the brackish air wasn’t bad. He smiled faintly. 

Joseph, too, relaxed his features. For a moment, fleeting as the 
tail-end of a dream, he felt as if he were in a canoe again, on the river, 
carrying two young warriors toward adulthood. 

The sailors moved quickly. Some of them smiled at her, but most 
of them didn’t even see her. A huge black man coiling a rope over 
his elbow bared his white teeth. One had a metallic glint. Esther 
was scared and moved toward the poop deck. She stopped beneath 
the steps, where the wind couldn’t flush her out. She sat down on 
a barrel that someone must have put there for the purpose. Voices 
came from above, and she recognized the voices of her father and 
the man with the wooden leg, Mr. Watson. 

“. . .will have a tremendous effect,” he was saying. “It’ll drive them 

They were above her. She could hear the sound of the limping 
footstep, the tump tump on the planks of the deck. 

She poked her nose over the parapet and looked down, into 
deep foam-striped blue. She imagined the dark recesses that cradled 

She stood on top of the barrel. Her eyes gazed down into the waves. 
She raised one foot to the edge. The dark mass was calling her to it. 


A whisper in her ear. The blink of an eye. Enough to see a woman’s 
black eyes mirroring her own. She hesitated. 

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Then she heard a shout, a loud cry, from the foremast. 

“Land ahoy!” 

The girl saw it: a dark shadow insinuating itself between sky and 
sea, breaking the waves and marking the end of the journey. The 
Other World. On the deck, the excitement was contagious. The 
captain started shouting orders. 

Someone grabbed Esther by the arm and dragged her from her 
hiding place. For such a small woman, Nancy had a very strong grip. 

“So this is where you’ve got to. Get down off there, your sisters 
need looking after.” 

Colonel Ethan Allen scraped the crust of dirt from his forearm. 
He could no longer smell the stench of bodies, or it had stopped 
bothering him. The noise on deck had woken him from his half-sleep. 
He checked the notches cut in the wooden plank. Yes, they could 
be within sight of the English coast. In the wolf’s lair, he thought 
excitedly. He would have to come up with something, rack his brains. 
The hero of Ticonderoga certainly couldn’t disembark like any old 
prisoner. He needed a memorable phrase, a speech, something that 
could travel from mouth to mouth, set the powder ablaze. He could 
appeal to the Whigs of the motherland. Motherland? The Green 
Mountains were his motherland. There, perhaps that was what he 
should say. But no, what did the inhabitants of England know of his 
country? . . . Down with tyrants. Maybe that was the idea. When 
he was tried for treason, he would defend himself with a speech on 
the freedom of the people. Those who rebel against a tyrant aren’t 
betraying freedom, they’re serving it. It would be transcribed and 
printed in thousands of copies. Ethan Allen, On Freedom. A title 
that would travel around the world. 

Allen scratched his head, dislodging lice as he did so. He pushed 
aside the bulk of one of his men lying on the floor, and tried to 
stretch his legs. Two steps forward, two steps back, that was the 
space available to him. “A new world is advancing along the path 
of history.” It sounded good. But abstract concepts couldn’t be 
enough: he had to evoke something tangible that everyone could 
understand. He trod on a hand; someone protested. Allen delivered 
a couple of kicks to gain a few inches and leaned against the wall. 
Above his head the hubbub continued. England wasn’t far away. 
The sound of bulkheads, furled sails, shouts. 

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Allen thought of the boy he had surrendered to. A half-breed, no 
less. He had handed over his sword to a bastard. He clenched his 
teeth with rage and studied the mass of lowered heads. There they 
were, the patriots. A thought began to assume a shape. What was 
that pathetic little island, England, compared to America? The New 
World, a great nation rising from the ashes of Empire. He smiled 
with excitement. The slit in the cell door opened up and the warder 
peered in. 

“Hurry up, Colonel,” said the yellow eyes. “We’ve reached the 
place where they’re going to hang you.” 

The inns around the port had run out of gin before midday. It was 
Friday market in Falmouth, and news had arrived that the Adamant 
was about to come into harbor. A sloop had landed early that 
morning to announce the vessel’s arrival. Some sailors and an officer 
had stepped out. The officer had entered the admiralty buildings 
and inspected the prisons. 

The rumor spread. The ship was carrying prisoners, including 
Ethan Allen, the famous conqueror of Fort Ticonderoga. 

In the street the crowd had become a roaring throng. The muddy 
streets had been invaded by vendors of alcoholic swill, tripe and 
Dublin Bay prawns, sellers of guaranteed louse-free wigs, children 
with bunches of flowers, beggars, jugglers, first-, second- and third- 
class shoe-shiners. The cries of the almanac sellers merged with 
the chants of the knife sharpeners. The pickpockets would earn a 
month’s income in only a few hours. 

As the rumor of the landing spread, the crowd shifted toward the 
dock: aristocrats from the nearby villas, the unshod poor, servants 
on their day oft, merchants, sailors, farmers who had come to town 
for the market. 

The people who lived in the houses overlooking the pier came 
down to the street offering exceptional seats for the enjoyment of the 
spectacle, far away from all the pushing and shoving. The owner of a 
sawmill tried madly to erect a stage. The work remained unfinished: 
with the first chime of the afternoon the Adamant furled its sails 
and entered the harbor. A double row of soldiers pushed their way 
forward, kicking and shoving. 

As the vessel approached the dock, the crowd swayed. Many 
people felt that the position they had obtained was not the best one: 

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the more discreet merely lifted themselves onto their tiptoes, but 
most of them started elbowing each other out of the way, trampling 
on feet and lapdogs that had slipped away from their mistresses. 

After a great deal of confusion, the crowd reached a precarious 
equilibrium and held its breath. 

There they were. A group of men was walking along the gangway. 
They looked English, but some had darker skin. In the middle, 
almost a foot taller than the others, a man in chains. 

Ethan Allen. 

The crowd began hurling insults, shouting abuse. Some vegetables 
were thrown, but no one wanted to risk a reaction from the guards. 

The soldiers presented arms. The captain in command saluted. 
A fat, well-dressed man emerged from the group that had recently 
disembarked and proclaimed in an Irish accent: 

“Captain, I deliver to you thirty-three prisoners, enemies of the 
King of England, and their leader Ethan Allen. He surrendered 
to this brave youth, Peter Johnson, son of the late Superintendent 
of Indian Affairs, Sir William Johnson. The other men who took 
part in the enterprise were the Iroquois chiefs here present, proud 
allies of the king, Joseph Brant Thayendanegea and Philip Lacroix 

There was a roar of amazement and approval. The captain stepped 
forward to receive the prisoner. Before the soldiers dragged him 
away, Ethan Allen raised his voice above the noise of the crowd. 

“I am the fire that consumes Babylon! Death to all tyrants!” 

Ethan Allen passed beneath a rain of insults and rotten vegetables. 

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Part Two 

Mohock Club 

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Detail of the map of London made by John Roque in 1 747. 

At the top, the St. Mary of Bethlehem Royal Hospital, known 
to Londoners as Bedlam, the oldest mental hospital in the world. 
Bottom right, beside the number 1 8, Lad Lane and the Swan with Two 
Necks inn. 

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1 . 

The carriage passed along the street as the two giants of St. Dunstan’s 
on Fleet Street struck two. The coachman was fighting sleep: one sip 
too many from the bottle under the seat. The fog was dense, and he 
had to trust the instinct of the horse, a compass set for the stable. 

The cry of a wild beast pierced the night. The man gave a start and 
pulled on the reins. When the wail was repeated, it came from closer 
by. The coachman felt a pain in his guts. 

A milk-white wig poked out of the window. 

“What the devil is happening, Giles ?” 

“I’m not sure I want to know, sir.” 

The coachman glimpsed a movement out of the corner of his eye, 
on the other side of the coach. He quickly turned around: a fleeting 
image, then nothing but fog. 

“Come on, Giles, let’s go!” 

The servant clenched his eyelids, and his thoughts went to the 
bottle under the seat. He couldn’t have seen what he thought he had 
seen. A naked man? 

He shook his head violently and was about to whip the horse 
when a sharp thud shook the coach. The passenger shouted in fear. 

There was no doubt about it: an arrow had landed in the door. 

“Whip that damned animal, Giles, for the love of God!” 

The servant cracked the whip, but the horse snorted and shied, 
then reared up on its hind legs, stretching its head high above the 
cobbles. In the faint lamplight two arrows could be seen protruding 
from the animal’s neck. 

The gin had nothing to do with this, Giles thought. Perhaps his 
time had come. 

He was aware of presences, creeping shadows. 

“What do you want?” he yelled, to give himself courage. 
Meanwhile he had picked up the big pistol that he kept beside the 
bottle and loaded it with a trembling hand. He pointed it into the 

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fog, where he heard their footsteps. They were running alongside 
the carriage; here and there he saw the white flash of a body. “You 
come near, you die!” he roared from the box. 

The passenger appeared at the door. 

“Tell us how much you want and leave us in peace,” he exclaimed 

In reply, a second arrow struck the coach. The head retreated into 
the shell of the coach. 

“Never fear, sir, we won’t give up without a fight,” Giles assured 
him, but he just had time to turn before he received a blow to the 
head. As he felt gravity getting the better of him and light making 
way for the darkness of unconsciousness, he managed to grasp one 
final waking image: a big Turkish crescent tattooed on the forehead 
of a brute with a painted face and a single tuft of hair in the middle 
of his head. A great ugly face, Giles thought as he slumped to the 
ground and blacked out. 

The gentleman called the coachman, then worked out that he had 
been left alone to the mercy of the beasts. He saw outlines darting past 
the window, heard whispers, animal cries. When a shadow stopped 
threateningly by the opening, he brandished his walking stick and 
struck a downward blow. He took advantage of the confusion that 
followed to open the door on the other side and jump out. He tried 
to run, but stumbled, and when he was on his feet again he found 
himself encircled. He counted at least five of them, all with shaved 
heads and bare chests. A trickle of blood ran down one face. The man 
saw long guns, pointed sticks, a sword and a pitchfork. 

“Emperor!” exclaimed one of the savages behind him. “This man 
is offending me by showing me his arse.” 

“Base insult!” echoed a man with a crescent on his forehead. 
“Punish him according to Mohock law.” 

The savage delivered a thrust to the gentleman’s posterior. The 
man swung around, revealing his rear end to another member of 
the gang, who immediately gave him a second blow, forcing him to 
whirl around once more; but already a third blow had come, and 
then a fourth, while everyone shouted as if possessed, “Mo-hock! 
Mo-hock! Mo-hock!” while stretching out their arms, stamping 
their feet and crashing powerfully into one another. 

All of a sudden the one they called Emperor raised an arm. His 
subjects stopped. 

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Their victim was bent double, clutching his knees, gasping for air. 
At a second nod from the ringleader, they lilted him up by his feet 
until every coin had fallen from his pockets. 

The Emperor collected their ill-gotten gains, then bent over the 
unfortunate man. 

“My name is Taw Waw Eben Zan Kaladar II, Emperor of the 
London Mohocks. After sunset, this is my hunting-ground.” He 
took a deep breath and the crescent creased with wrinkles. Then he 
pulled the white wig off the gentleman’s head and tied it to his belt. 

“You may go,” he added. “But go quickly. You need a bath.” 

The poor wretch struggled to his feet, clenching his teeth, and 
started running blindly toward the end of the street. With a swift 
movement the gang leader picked up his bow, took aim and fired an 
arrow into the fleeing man’s backside. The man just managed to yell 
before he passed out. 

The other attackers exchanged confused glances. 

“What if he dies?” one of them complained. “Given that he’s a 
toff' and all that.” 

The madman barely deigned to glance at him, as he slipped the 
bow over his shoulder. 

“Then we’ll be famous.” 

No one said a word. With their chief at their head, one by one 
they re-entered the fog, creatures of a nightmare before waking. The 
last of them uttered the animal war cry again, defying the London 

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2 . 

Along the street the houses grew denser as the countryside made way 
for the suburbs. Philip Lacroix thought again of the exodus that had 
brought him from the forests of Canajoharie to the capital of the 
Empire, from the valley of the Mohawk to the valley of the Thames. 
He thought again of the voyage upriver; of the impetuous torrents 
that they had shot through at breakneck speed; the waterfalls and 
ridges rounded with their boats on their backs; the winds that blew 
over Lake Ontario; the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence; and 
the ice storms of the North Atlantic, capable of tilting the yards of 
th t Adamant until they kissed the waves. 

And yet the past five days, two hundred miles on the rambling 
lanes between Falmouth and London, had been the hardest. Perhaps 
it was just a matter of habit: Philip had little experience of wheeled 
vehicles. Perhaps his unease had something to do with speed: the 
stagecoach moved more quickly than the spirit of the passenger, 
which was obliged to follow it. He wrapped himself up in his beaver 
fur and looked at the friend sitting beside him. 

Joseph Brant was lost in thought. Outside the window were more 
and more impressive buildings. The daylight was running out, and the 
city looked like a dark mass preparing to swallow them up, a giant 
animal, its breath hanging in the air, dense and visible. Joseph had 
been to New York once, but this was something completely different. 

He shook himself, making an effort to smile at Philip. 

“Welcome to Babylon,” he murmured. 

The shadows of great buildings loomed in the darkness. The air 
smelled of burning, dung and rubbish, but Peter was taking deep 
breaths as he tried to see through the smoke. He would rather have 
arrived in broad daylight; the dusk left you hostage to your sense of 
smell, and too tired to get your bearings and keep out of trouble. He 
yearned for fresh energy and enough light to explore every alley on 
either side of the street. 

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The convoy of coaches stopped. The horses stood panting, the 
exhausted passengers peered from the windows. Someone from the 
Department, at the head of the column, had entered an inn to book 
rooms for the night. 

Peter saw a boy his own age holding a long pole with a little flame 
at the top. He stepped up to poles and lit them one by one, making 
them cast a yellowish light over the pavement. Shadows flitted 
under each halo, emerging out of nothing before immediately 
vanishing. He found himself thinking of a window looking out over 
an inverted world, from which it was possible to observe the strange 
creatures that peopled it. This wasn’t how he had imagined arriving 
in the capital. They had been ordered not to get out of the carriages. 
He craned his neck, but couldn’t see past the next vehicle. 

Joseph cleaned the tobacco from his fingers by rubbing them 
together. The sweet smell mitigated the stench of London. Guy 
Johnson said the acrid smell of burning came from coal, and from 
the fog. Hard to imagine that a rock extracted from the ground 
could be used to make fire. 

The coaches had been waiting for half an hour: the Golden 
Helmet had two rooms fewer than expected. The staff in the inn 
were doing all that they could to find an alternative. 

“In Quebec we were all in one room,” Peter observed between 
yawns. “Don’t they do that here?” 

“Here we are ambassadors of the Mohawk nation,” his uncle 
replied. “The king of France’s envoys wouldn’t have consented to 
share a room.” 

Peter closed his eyes and slumped back in the chair. Joseph turned 
to offer a pinch of tobacco to Philip as well, and discovered that he 
had slipped out of the coach. 

He needed to be upright, stand on his feet, free himself of the grip of 
the journey. He took a few steps toward the nearest lamp, to look at 
it close up. Between that one and the next there was still a stretch of 
pitch darkness: the world appeared in disconnected pieces, and the 
intermittence of light made it impossible for his eyes to adjust to the 
night. Beyond each feeble cascade of light, nothing could be seen. 
A luminous image rose up from the well of his memory: Father 
Guillaume’s bony fingers pressing down on his desk. “Remember, 

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I ? 2 


Philippe. There is no Light without Darkness. A single principle 
and its opposite. To confront darkness you need faith, because you 
will never see beyond the step that you are about to take. That is our 
earthly trial.” 

A noise brought him back to the present, a sinister squeaking 
noise that approached it was hard to say where from, for the 
fog spread around in all directions. Suddenly he was aware of a 
presence below him. A monstrous creature touched his knee, 
emitting incomprehensible sounds. It was a man, or what was 
left of one. Its trunk rested on a plank of wood, moved on little 
wheels propelled by its hands. A compact coating of scabs and 
colorless rags covered its body, and you could hardly make out 
eyes, mouth, a few fingers. Philip felt an instinctive urge to chase 
away the horror, but remained motionless, enthralled by the 
immensity of such ugliness. “Our earthly trial.” The creature stank 
and spoke, a singsong chant, obscure except for two words: “Sir” 
and “Excellency.” At the end of its twisted fingers it held a little 
tin plate. The creature was asking for charity. Philip felt disgust, 
repulsion, fear. He pushed away the beggar’s claw and returned to 
the coach. 

Joseph saw him coming back, pale and frowning. 

“What is it?” 

“This place stinks,” said Philip. 

His friend shrugged. 

“So does bear grease. But what would you do without it ?” 

A sound of hoofs echoed on the cobbles, the outline of two 
horses dragging a vehicle in the beam of light from the lamps. The 
man sitting in the box drew himself upright. 

“A moment’s attention, please.” He separated his words, as if to be 
certain of being understood. “My name is Jerome, at your service. I 
come from the Swan with Two Necks, on Lad Lane. My master asks 
me to tell you that we are ready to receive you as best we can. Our 
inn is not equipped for long stays, but we have managed to free two 
quiet rooms for you. The staff will be at your disposal.” 

Philip picked up the bags and climbed down into the street. 
“One room is enough for me,” he said. “And I believe that Peter will 
happily share it.” 

The boy woke from his torpor and joined the Great Devil. All 
Joseph had to do was follow them. 

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Jerome hurried to transfer the cases. Before returning to his box, 
he made sure that the passengers were comfortable. 

“Gentlemen, if you will permit me, even though it is foggy, I will 
loosen these beasts’ bridles. The streets of London are not well lit 
and driving is risky after dark.” 

The two Indians said nothing. Joseph merely nodded. 

When the wheels started moving, Philip looked out. He thought 
he could still hear the squeaking sound, fainter and farther away. 

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At least sixty men, a dozen horses, five dogs. Lots of chickens in 
a single cramped cage. Four children chasing a fat piglet. Gulls 
chattering in flight. The Creation. 

Voices and noises floated up to the balconies like steam from 
boiling soup, filtered through every door, woke the guests one by 

Philip’s sleep was a net with a wide mesh: most sounds passed 
through it without breaking it. Yet even in his half-sleep, he was able 
to give a name to every sound, to assess its volume and its distance. 
He had learned that as a child, and by now it was a habit. Lots of 
Caughnawaga had worked at the mission, and it was one of them 
who had taught Philip that and the other rudiments of hunting. 
The priests hadn’t opposed this as long as hunting didn’t distract 
him from his studies and prayers. So, because he couldn’t stay in the 
forests from dawn till dusk, he had come up with a series of exercises 
to keep his reflexes, senses, and muscles awake. The Creation was one 
of them. It had been given that nickname by Father Guillaume, who 
was always careful to introduce God into anything that concerned 
one of his pupils. 

Philip slipped out of bed. Peter was still asleep. He took the 
clothes from his wardrobe and began to get dressed. Simple clothes, 
but made of the best materials. He put on his boots and went outside 
onto the balcony. 

The Swan with Two Necks was a wide, plain building that 
enclosed three sides of a courtyard. The central body held the rooms, 
with access to the outside via wooden balconies lined up along the 

Below him the paths of men, vehicles and animals crossed in the 
mud. A drunk dragged his feet out of the tavern. Porters seemed 
to be collapsing under impossible burdens. A boy ran on thin legs 
to deliver letters and parcels. Two horse carts collided in a bid to 

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l 15 

pass first through a big archway. Postilions called for the way to be 
cleared while clusters of children besieged the passengers with offers 
of combs, sponges, razors, mirrors and orange fruits that Philip had 
never seen before. In front of the stables, stagecoaches waited for 
horses or repairs. 

There was something familiar about the atmosphere of the 
place, Philip thought. In the Mohawk Valley, the big houses were 
always inns, stables, post offices, shops and storerooms for boats and 
armories. The people came and went, lives touched one another, 
and that had been enough to teach him about more things than 
Canajoharie had contained. He stepped onto the stairs and went 

He barely had time to look around before he was surrounded 
by sellers of trinkets, all of them scandalized that a man like him 
could even think of facing the day without acquiring any of their 
merchandise. He paid for one of the unfamiliar fruits, slipped it into 
his pocket and broke free. He took a few steps toward the entrance, 
but a fellow with worn-out clothes and a haughty air managed to 
hand him a sheet of paper. 

“An exhibition that you can’t miss, sir. Only three shillings.” He 
seemed to be reciting these words from memory. 

“The porcupine man?” asked the Indian, reading the advertisement. 

“A man with spines instead of hair on his body, sir. Sensational. 
Never before seen in any town in the kingdom.” 

The phrases bounced out like a playground-chant nursery rhyme. 

“What does the exhibition consist of?” Philip asked. 

“The porcupine man will show you his chest and his legs. You 
will be able to touch the spines and notice that there is nothing fake 
about them, just a joke of Mother Nature’s. Then you will see him 
behaving like a porcupine, walking on all fours, stiffening his spines, 
hunting for worms.” 

“This man eats worms ?” 

The other man winked. “No, that’s just to gull the jossers and rake 
in a few shekels.” 

“What’s that you say?” 

The man opened his eyes wide, as if caught in the midst of 
committing a crime. “Nothing, sir, nothing. Sensational. Never seen 
the like. The porcupine man.” And with these words he walked away 
with the packet of papers pressed to his chest. 

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“Nothing to worry about, sir. It’s the market.” 

Philip turned around and saw a smartly dressed man of about 
thirty. An open-mouthed smile spread toward his ears and cut his 
face in two, like a tree trunk waiting for the final blow. The man 
wore a big hat. Beside him, a tall, fat Negro, also elegantly dressed, 
held a leather bag. 

“Let me introduce myself, sir. My name is Maugham — Frederick 
W. Maugham; the ‘W’ stands for Winslow. This is my secretary, 
Mr. Cornelius Pigou. You are a foreigner, that much is immediately 
apparent, sir. . .” 

“Philip Lacroix.” 

“A Frenchman, then.” 

“I grew up in Canada.” 

“First time in London, am I right?” 

“Yes, that’s correct.” 

“You will have to get used to people like that rogue. Aside from 
the intrusiveness of those who try to sell them, goods do little harm. 
Good money drives out bad, if you are free to chose, and London 
is the capital of freedom of choice. In no other part of the world do 
so many goods circulate.” Maugham spread his arms wide, as if to 
embrace as much of the world as possible. “In no other city is the 
market regulated with such admirable balance.” 

Philip tried in vain to give these words a meaning. Maugham must 
have understood this, because he changed his expression, lowered 
his voice and began his speech again in a calmer, more patient tone. 

“Mr. Lacroix, the ragged man just offered you one of the most 
desirable goods there is: enjoyment, distraction, the shiver of 
the unfamiliar. Every day, people with simple tastes are excited 
by the sight of the porcupine man and who knows how many of 
his colleagues, true or supposed lusus naturae, dwarfs, giants, 
hermaphrodites, duckbilled women, men with four testicles. Most 
of them are swindles, staged for the gullible. Coarse goods, crudely 
advertised. If those who sell these spectacles remain in business, it 
is because the business operates in special conditions, artificially 
limiting one’s freedom of choice. Do you follow me?” 

“Follow you?” 

“I mean, do you understand what I am saying? This kind of 
spectacle is suggested to people like you, met outside taverns and 
coaching inns. People in transit, in London for the first time, are in 

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search of powerful sensations, but they do not know what the city 
has to offer or have time to discover and choose the best offer at the 
most advantageous price. So you find yourself seeing the porcupine 
man, and perhaps spend the evening being fleeced in some dive 
where the food is oft and the wine is colored water, and conclude 
your excursus in an alleyway with a cheap whore. Often an accord 
will have been reached, where there is not a single interest involved: 
the employer of the porcupine man is also the landlord of the inn, 
as well as the whore’s pimp. Your excursus has been guided from the 
start, so as to prevent you from knowing of other offers. This closes 
and blocks the market, and the quality of goods declines, which 
does poor service to the city, to England, to the Empire. And that’s 
where I come in.” 


“Yes, me. A loyal subject like Frederick \V. Maugham cannot 
allow a gentleman like yourself to return to France or Canada 
convinced that the entertainments of London are second-rate, that 
the food is inedible and expensive, that the English whores have 
flabby flesh and sagging breasts. I have a mission: following market 
forces, I contribute to the wealth of the nation. The service that I 
offer to gentlemen is, no more or less, the possibility of exercising 
their own free will. As I told you before: bad money is driven out by 
good. I put good money in circulation.” 

Philip was intoxicated by the man’s long speech. He was torn 
between the desire to go back to the inn and the curiosity to know 
what the point of it all was. 

“Are you offering me something as well?” 

Maugham smiled and nodded to his secretary. 

“Pigou, open the bag.” 

The Negro obliged. 

The bag was empty. 

“What I am selling, Mr Lacroix, is information. You see what’s in 
this bag? 

“I would say there’s nothing in it.” 

“Precisely, precisely! Nothing. But imagine. . .” and he lowered 
his voice again, “. . .imagine that this bag is full of paper. Hundred 
and hundreds of sheets of paper. Black on white, everything that 
London is capable of offering a man of the world. Names, addresses, 
prices. The most beautiful women at the most reasonable prices. The 

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most bizarre spectacles for selected customers. The best opium to be 
smoked with the most complete discretion. The special password- 
only receptions. The people to approach to satisfy less. . . usual 
tastes. Those who are able to offer these services turn to me, and I 
bring supply and demand together. They turn to me because I am 
the best, and I have become so without shortcuts, trouncing the 
competition thanks to the quality of my goods. Do you follow me, 
Mr. Tacroix ?” 

Philip said nothing. His confusion and curiosity had turned to 
contempt. The Negro closed the bag. Maugham continued. 

“This is information that makes the economy go round, Mr. 
Tacroix. However, you understand, it is not information that can 
be shouted to the four winds. I am a patriot and a subject who 
loves King George, but I must say that the English authorities are 
still very backward. In the name of an outdated morality, they put 
inexplicable brakes on commerce and keep some goods and services 
illegal. Soon they will have to change their attitude and let the free 
market grow. Until that day comes, what should be in this bag is 
all in here!” He tapped his forehead with the tip of his right index 
finger. “You only have to ask, Mr. Tacroix. Would you like to enjoy 
someone’s company? I can offer you young women, old women, fat 
women, skeletal women, or men, children, or others among God’s 
creatures, if you catch my drift. What would you like to see ? A fight 
to the death? Are you a betting man? There’s a place where Negroes 
face one another with knives and sticks. All free Negroes, obviously. 
Pigou, too, is a free man. I am opposed to slavery: everyone has the 
right to sell himself, at the price he considers right. Ah, but where 
are you going ? Mr Tacroix ?” 

Philip headed for the inn. Maugham and Pigou followed him for 
a few yards. “Mr. Tacroix? I have lots of other offers to make to you. 
Mark my words, you won’t find anyone else who can give you. . .” 

One of the ushers at the Swan with Two Necks saw Philip’s 
tormentors, shook his fist and said: “Back again, you disgusting 
perverts ? If you impor-tune another of our customers I’ll beat the 
living daylights out of you!” 

The two men walked away. Philip entered the inn and left the 
world outside. He took a deep breath. 

Behind him two rooms opened up, one connected to the other. 
Joseph nodded at him from a table by the window. He was sitting 

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with a stranger, chewing on a piece of bacon. The stranger was 
spewing forth words in an incomprehensible dialect, with the air of 
someone who still has plenty to say. Philip took a chair and tried to 
trace the thread of the conversation. He looked at his friend: Joseph 
was listening carefully, nodding, and every now and again he raised 
his cup and took a sip of broth. 

“Do you understand anything ?” Philip whispered in the Mohawk 

“Not a word,” was the reply. “I’m getting used to the London 

The rotund figure of Jerome strode toward them. 

“Gentlemen,” he said remorsefully, “you shouldn’t be eating here. 
I’ve reserved a room for you, special food. . .” 

“Don’t worry, Jerome,” Joseph interrupted. “Here is fine.” 

“As you wish, gentlemen. Your inn has rooms free tomorrow 
morning, and although we will be sorry to see you leave. . .” 

“We aren’t leaving,” Joseph broke in. “We’re fine here. And you, 
Jerome, are a very kind man.” 

“As you wish, gentlemen. Your presence here is an honor to us.” 
Their host was about to turn around, then stopped, rummaged in 
his waistcoat pockets and took out an envelope. “I forgot. A note 
for you.” With a slight bow he handed it to Joseph. “Good day, 

Philip watched his friend open the envelope and read the message. 
He glanced quizzically at him. 

“We are invited to a reception at the home of a certain Warwick,” 
Joseph said. “The Earl of Warwick.” 

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From the Daily Courant, 30 December 1775 


On the twenty-eighth of this month, I took my tea at the Golden 
Helmet Inn in Westminster, temporary residence of Colonel GUY 
JOHNSON, head of the Department of Indian Affairs of the 
American Colonies. The colonel is a sturdy man of medium height. 
He wears his hair short at his neck, combed back, as if to leave space 
for his refined and honest face. Although he has important duties, 
his speech is far from pompous, being concise and laconic, with a 
marked Irish accent. Following a brief correspondence, he very 
kindly agreed to receive me and answer some questions. 

The American Indian delegation that crossed the ocean with him 
is also staying in our city. 

Colonel Johnson asserted that those American tribes who are 
our allies are extremely confused by recent events in the colonies. 
Officers who fought together beside these tribes in the war against 
the French have begun to war with one another. . . In such a 
political hotchpotch the MOHAWK people wish to listen to 
His Majesty speaking in person and act only in obedience to his 

A very similar visit occurred in 1710. On that occasion too 
there was an Indian alliance to be consolidated, and the splendor 
of London had to act as a counterweight to the lies of the French 
Jesuits, who told the tribes that Christ was born in Paris and 
crucified in England. 

Queen Anne received at court Emperor Tiyanoga, whom the 
settlers called Hendrick, accompanied by the King of Maquas, 

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known as Brant. The latter is said to have been the grandfather of 
Prince Thayendanegea, also known by the name of Brant. 

I asked Colonel Johnson to give me news about our Indian 
allies. He showed me a map, drawn by his own hand for our new 
Secretary of State for the Colonies, LORD GERMAIN. From it I 
learned that the Six Iroquois Nations occupy the territory west of the 
colony of New York, up to the Great Lakes. The most important and 
authoritative people among them are the Mohawk, whose territories 
lie within the borders of the colony. Since the days of Queen Anne, 
the Mohawk nation has made a great deal of progress. They live in 
villages made of stout and worthy houses, they cultivate the land with 
the skill of an Essex peasant, they are all devout Christians and trade 
with the English merchants with a great deal of ease and comfort. 
As to military consistency, the entire federation can put FIFTEEN 
THOUSAND MEN on the warpath within a few days. According 
to Colonel Johnson, a clear and unequivocal choice of sides on the 
part of these allies would be enough all by itself to frighten off the 
Bostonians who are besieging Quebec. “Not by chance,” he said, “a 
hundred warriors were enough to defend Montreal and capture the 
most dangerous of our enemies,” referring to the captive ETHAN 
ALLEN, the rebel who a few months ago took Fort Ticonderoga. 

I then asked why Prince Thayendanegea, having come to Canada 
to defend Montreal, had then left for London just as the continental 
army was lining up its troops on the bank of the St. Lawrence River. 

Colonel Johnson rose to his feet, set the map down, and paused 
for some time as he considered his answer. When he spoke at last, 
the delicate nature of what he had to say explained his silence. He 
told me that the fifteen thousand warriors of the Six Nations were 
only waiting for a nod to intervene against the rebels and chase them 
all the way back to New York. He himself had led a small vanguard 
into Canada as reinforcements, on the orders of General Gage. 
Unfortunately, a disagreement had arisen between the general and 
the governor of Quebec about the use of the Mohawk militias, and 
his warriors had been forced to demobilize. 

“Many officers fear that they are losing their control over the 
Indian troops,” Colonel Johnson went on, “but this does not 
happen when someone the Indians trust is in command. Sir William 
Johnson, my uncle, dealt with Indian affairs for two decades. He died 
more than a year ago, but the Six Nations still have great confidence 

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in our family. If their trust is confirmed by His Majesty, our alliance 
with these Indians can only bring benefits to the interests of the 

With this important piece of information, the interview 
concluded, and Colonel Johnson gave me a further appointment, at 
which I shall receive a complete account of his audience with Lord 


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A smartly dressed pig with a sheep on its head. 

The wig was too long; the sleeper’s position made it drag on the 
floor. He was fat and far from tall. Rather advanced in years, too, 
one might have said. His cheeks hung slackly at the sides of his face, 
like a sow’s. However, they were very well powdered, so that his 
flesh was the same color as his hair. His cheeks, like his lips, were 
brightened with rouge, and punctuated by a scattering of beauty 
spots. His breathing swelled his belly, which looked as if it were 
about to burst open, like the portal of a fortress under the blows of a 
battering ram. His shoes barely touched the floor; his backside was 
balanced on his hind legs. He stayed like that, tilted against the wall, 
rocking slightly back and forth. 

Philip took his eyes oft the strange creature and returned his 
attention to the master of the house. 

“How I envy the Mohawk, Your Highness,” the Earl of War- 
wick said, turning to Joseph, as he dabbed his own powdered 
countenance. “A people who paint their faces only when they go 
into battle.” 

Philip remembered that at the entrance to the drawing room a 
servant in a jacket covered with buttons had taken their hats and 
announced them as “His Highness Joseph Brant Thayendanegea, 
Prince of Ganjahore, and Mr. Philippe de la Croix" 

Philip had been startled. By comparison, “Colonel Guy Johnson 
and Lieutenant Daniel Claus” sounded like simple members of 
their entourage; even Philip had received a warmer welcome, as a 
“victorious champion of the King.” 

He saw Joseph half-open his lips to reply, but the earl had already 
started talking again: “You have astounded my guests, who expected 
exotic warriors, barefoot, their faces painted, covered in plumes 
and feathers. At first they were disappointed to see you were such 
gentlemen. However, I assure you that you are the highlight of the 

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evening,” and he made a wide circular gesture with his arm that took 
in the vastness of the drawing room. 

Philip studied the other guests: difficult to attribute human 
nature to most of these creatures crammed into gaudy clothes, 
balancing on ten-inch heels, fingers invisible under clusters of rings, 
heads sunk into their shoulders under the weight of wigs, making 
them look like stuffed birds. They were busy dancing, drinking, 
chewing on food, chatting. 

Warwick, who seemed to understand what was running through 
the warrior’s head, smiled and explained, “This. . . fauna is very 
different from that found in your forests, is that not so, Monsieur 
Lacroix ? But I assure you that behind their ridiculous appearance, 
ils ne sont ni plus ni moins que des betes ferocesT 

Joseph, who did not understand the language of Moliere, 
frowned. Warwick came to his aid without looking at him. His 
eyes were empty now, as if he were talking to himself, forgetting his 
guests, in a state close to sleepwalking. “Wild beasts, your highness. 
Monsters that even Linnaeus, the great naturalist, could not have 
classified. After taking a good look, you might think them primates, 
family Hominidae , but some of them are nocturnal beasts of prey, 
others are insects, like termites, and still others cold-blooded reptiles. 
All are carnivores and hunters. They kill to eat, but their hunger is 
called boredom: they live with the perennial need to find something 
new, someone new, to distract themselves, to suck from others the 
authentic life, the jouissance that they themselves are condemned to 
simulate. When they find a prey they devour it, picking clean every 
bone, breaking the bones and sucking out the marrow.” 

Philip and Joseph were open-mouthed. The earl looked at them, 
shook himself from his trance and continued in a different register, 
“All right, tonight you will be the prey. You should have heard the 
nonsense talked about you just before you got here. Truly bizarre 
ideas about the Indians are circulating among the English aristocracy. 
Take for example the Duke of Sorethumberland, there at the end,” 
and he stretched out his index finger. The two Mohawks followed its 
trajectory and in the middle of the motley crowd they discerned the 
likely object of his speech, a tall, very thin man of indefinable age, 
dressed in flame red. He was talking to a kind of barrel-woman, far 
shorter than himself, and his back was bent. The woman was carrying 
a little animal with long hair and a squashed face. 

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“What kind of animal is that?” asked Joseph. 

“A lapdog. A pointless creature to amuse yourself with. Just 
think, my guests sometimes arrive with monkeys crouching on 
their shoulders, et les singes, vous le savez, ils chient, juste comme les 

“Monkeys?” thought Philip. “Monkeys shitting on people’s 
shoulders ?” 

Warwick had already returned to his theme. 

“The good duke was convinced that rhinoceroses run about on 
your lands, and that you Indians reduce their horns to powder to 
produce an aphrodisiac more powerful than cantharides.” 

Rhinoceroses ? Cantharides ? Now Philip and Joseph were both 

“As I was saying,” Warwick went on, “they know nothing about 
our colonies. They have no idea where they are or who lives there. We 
are used to describing Tondon as ‘the heart of Empire,’ but the heart 
pumps blood to the rest of the body, while here the opposite is true: it 
is the colonies that pump the blood that keeps Tondon alive.” 

“So the city of your king is the head ?” Joseph asked. 

Warwick smiled. “If that were the case it would contain the brain. 
Took around: in theory, this drawing room holds the best of the 
king’s high society. And yet, from the moment you begin to pass 
the evening in this place, I invite you to listen to the conversations. 
I assure you that you will find not a trace of ratiocination. I think 
these roads and houses are in fact the buttocks of Empire. They 
possess all the characteristics of the backside and its orifice: here is 
discharged every resource that the Empire sends to us. Except, by a 
whim of nature, these buttocks are in front of the body rather than 
behind it.” The earl burst out laughing. 

“You have a strange idea of your guests, My Lord,” said Joseph. 
“Why do you surround yourself with people you don’t hold in 

“Look at me carefully, Your Highness. I myself am of the same 
species. I, too, go in search of jouissance. I find my pleasure in 
disgust. I watch ridiculous and revolting spectacles with genuine 
pleasure. I arrange evenings like this one and observe the decadence 
of my time, one foot within and one outside the spectacle. It isn’t a 
secret, everyone knows what I’m doing, and still they come running 
in droves, because no party is a match for mine.” 

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i8 6 


Philip wasn’t sure he had understood. Joseph was sure he hadn’t 
understood. Warwick realized this and laughed again. 

“You don’t know the nature of the one who reigns over your white 
neighbors, just as we know nothing of them or of you. Certainly, we 
know that the settlers are in revolt on the other side of the ocean, but 
most of us have only the vaguest idea. The most frequent question 
when the subject arises is: ‘Why do they hate us?’ ” 

“They don’t hate you,” said Joseph. “Behind the veil of words lies 
my people. They want our lands and our dignity.” 

“Oh, of course they don’t want ours,” Warwick replied. “We 
haven’t got any.” 

Philip saw a cat dart under the sleeping fat man’s chair and 
knock it over. The man hit the ground with a thud and discharged 
a loud fart that aroused the noisy hilarity of the lady closest to him. 
The terrified creature sought refuge under the hem of her cloak, 
but the lady gave it a stout kick and sent it flying. Philip watched 
the ball of fur hurtling across the drawing-room and realized that 
it wasn’t a cat; it was an opossum. It smacked into the back of 
one of the dancers, who acted as if nothing were wrong, merely 
keeping a fixed smile as he peered over his partner’s shoulder. The 
animal dropped from his coat and landed in the middle of the 
room, where it risked being squashed by dozens of heels moving in 
time. At that moment Philip saw it more clearly and understood. 
It wasn’t an opossum either. Or a rabbit. It was the biggest rat 
he had ever seen. After a moment of panic, the rodent headed at 
great speed in his direction. Philip stepped aside to let it pass, but 
a sharp blow nailed the rat to the floor. As if someone had burst 
a balloon, a ribbon of guts spurted from the creature’s abdomen 
and landed on the back of the Duke of Sorethumberland, who 
turned, startled, thinking himself the victim of a prank. Someone 
pointed at his back and he performed various pirouettes before 
working out what had hit him. His lady just had time to spread her 
fan and vomit into a vase of flowers as her little dog began licking 
up the mess on the floor. Then the servants came to clean it up. 
Meanwhile someone was helping the pig-man to his feet. Philip 
was sure he heard him grunt, and had to clench his teeth to keep 
from laughing. 

Joseph Brant lifted his stick and contemplated the corpse at his 

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The Earl of Warwick quickly attracted the attention of his butler; 
a black man in livery and white gloves, he picked the rat up by the 
tail and carried it away amid the disgusted cries of the ladies. 

The dancers started crossing the floor once more, in coordinated 
steps. The musicians’ faces were masks of sweat and cosmetics. Peter 
had agreed after much simpering persuasion to display his skill as 
a violinist in concert with the band. Someone started praising the 
fact that a heroic soldier should also be interested in music and have 
such a light touch. Joseph couldn’t relax his facial muscles, such was 
the stench that filled the room: a mixture of rancid sweat and rotten 
flowers. He had been told that the European aristocracy liked to 
wear perfume, but this certainly wasn’t a pleasant smell. 

He turned toward Philip, who was looking around in puzzlement. 

“Perhaps they have to keep the mosquitoes at bay here, too.” 

The butler announced another arrival, and a deformed woman 
advanced into the room. Her hips were so broad that they brushed 
against the doorposts. A page had to help her pass through without 
getting stuck, then follow her closely to correct her path by prodding 
her gently at the sides. A staircase of ringlets crowned her head. Her 
dress glittered, as if woven through with fragments of mirror, so 
brightly that looking at her hurt the eye. Around her neck hung a 
rope of carved stones that fell to her massive bosom. 

The butler loudly announced a considerable sum, and the four- 
poster woman looked smugly around. 

“It’s the price of the clothes and jewels that she’s wearing,” said 
the earl, turning to Joseph and Philip. “At the end of the evening we 
always announce a winner.” 

“Our women are also very good at transporting things,” Joseph 

“To tell the truth, Your Highness, ours transport only their own 
vanity,” Warwick sniggered. “An enormous weight, in fact. Allow 
me to demonstrate.” 

Joseph watched the earl nonchalantly approach the fat woman, 
kiss her hand, flatter her, and meanwhile slip the tip of his stick 
under the hem of her dress. Taking advantage of a burst of noisy 
applause for the musicians, he lifted the fabric slightly. An iron 
structure held up the weight of the dress, mounted on little wheels. 

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6 . 

Colonel Guy Johnson, in full-dress uniform, and Daniel Claus, in 
a white wig, were also watching the scene, from a vantage point 
some way outside the halo of interest and curiosity surrounding the 
Mohawks. In spite of his proud military posture, Guy was suffering 
from the weight of the journey and exhaustion of the past few 
months. His baffled contemplation of the London aristocracy had 
given way to a more serious train of thought concerning his mission 
in the capital. 

London was a seething cauldron of humors and events, and there 
was a serious risk of being swallowed up in it. There were two doors 
he must open: Lord Germains and King George’s. He had to open 
them quickly, obtain those appointments. 

At that moment all eyes in the room were focused upon “Prince 
Thayendanegea and his brave Mohawk warriors.” The attentions of 
Lord Warwick and the morbid curiosity of the guests, he could tell, 
were destined to go on for some time. And it could turn out well: 
Guy trusted Joseph Brant, knew how much he valued Sir William 
Johnson and his blood-ties with the Johnson family. He knew he 
would do his part to honor the memory and precepts of the Old 

Guy was also grateful to have the “monk” Lacroix: he was hard to 
understand, but more trustworthy than most. 

The Mohawks would act in the interest of their people and the 
Johnson family. 

And yet, the risk of his being overshadowed by them was quite a 
real one. Perhaps he should call attention to his military successes 
against the rebels, above all his capture of that overblown buffoon 
Ethan Allen. 

He should, but deep down inside him something had changed. 
The hump of weariness sat on his back, on his face the dark patina of 
grief. Shaking off' bandoka was not an easy matter. 

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Mary and his male child. The responsibility had been his; he had 
wanted her with him. Since that night he had struggled to look 
his daughters in the face and had begun to fear the future. Perhaps 
that was the meaning of aging. Fear like a load of stones, getting 
heavier and heavier. Or perhaps he was only feeling the harshness of 
a journey begun many months before. 

He was ending the year 1775 in the Thames-side residence of an 
aristocrat in favor with King George, among all these high-born 
whores and parasites of noble lineage. True, he was far from his own 
lands and possessions, and war was at their distant gates. Tuckily, he 
had his daughters with him, in safety. 

He was here to defend the honor and the wealth of the Johnsons. 
Make the right contacts, conduct good business. Sweep the dark 
shadow away. 

Guy returned to his senses and noticed that he was holding a glass, 
but couldn’t remember what it contained. He saw Peter following 
the music of the band on his violin. He was playing on a little dais, 
beneath a massive mirror with a gilded frame. The boy was at his ease. 
He had studied and received a good education, he spoke well and was 
already famous as a fighter. He could win the regard of the Crown. 
Guy looked back at Joseph Brant and the Earl of Warwick, a few feet 
away. The Indian was impassive: he didn’t change his expression or 
open his mouth, but remained impeccably in character. Judging by 
the count’s simpering, he might be able to ask a question. 

Better not let himself be gnawed by impatience, keep moving 
at the right pace, know how to wait. He shook himself again and 
turned toward Daniel Claus. 

“It seems that our prince has an irresistible attraction for the British 
aristocracy.” He nodded toward the cluster of people listening with 
animated expressions to the loquacious earl. The German shifted his 
weight to his other leg and only grunted. Guy Johnson looked again 
at the glass he was holding. 

The master of ceremonies interrupted the music and dance 
to announce that Tady Somersault, the strange self-propelling 
architecture of ringlets and jewels, was the winner of the evening, 
thanks to the considerable opulence of the load that she was bearing, 
valued at thousands of pounds. The information was followed by 
a round of applause, interrupted by the arrival of a new course of 
game at the long banqueting table. 

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The ensuing hubbub was immediate and unstoppable, as 
clusters of people broke up like a routed army. However, they 
were not in flight, but on the assault, so much so that some 
of the waiters only just escaped the crush. Tangles of hands 
dismembered pheasants and hares. Noises of mastication filled 
the room. 

“Takes your appetite away, doesn’t it?” 

A disgusted voice. An uncertain step, the right leg stiff, the back 
as twisted as his smile. The man gave a faint bow. 

“Sir Theodore Leed. Honored to meet you.” 

Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus returned his greeting. 

Leed winked toward Joseph Brant, who was seraphically 
contemplating the banquet. 

“With the greatest respect, gentlemen, unless the Six Nations 
have become a monarchy since I left America, your Indian is no 
more a prince than I am the king of Sweden.” 

He spoke with the abrupt tone of a soldier, and he looked like 
one, too. Guy and Daniel exchanged an eloquent glance. 

“In fact, Joseph Brant Thayendanegea is a war chief, not a prince,” 
admitted Guy. 

“I thought so,” the crippled man said. “I was stationed at Fort 
William Henry for the last war.” He touched his leg, then his 
shoulder, with his fingertip. “French mortar, Scottish surgeon. 
Unhappy combination.” 

He allowed himself a bitter sneer. 

Guy felt anxiety rising into his throat. He gulped a few times, 
trying not to think about his uniform, the valley and above all the 
watery abyss that separated him from home. 

It was Claus who broke in, perhaps noticing his difficulty. 

“Haven’t you been back to America since then?” 

“Sadly, no, I’m on terminal leave. Nonetheless, I keep myself 
informed about what’s happening. I know that you’ve had problems 
with General Carleton about the Indians.” 

Claus stared at him with ill-concealed suspicion. 

“I don’t suppose that you, too, belong to the party opposed to 
their use in this war?” 

Leed smiled. The question was an explicit way of taking his 
measure. He observed the ravenous horde leaving the table with the 
tired and satisfied look of those who have worked hard to earn their 

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I 9 I 

bread. The chattering resumed among the pairs and little groups, as 
the band put up a new score. 

“I knew Superintendent Johnson in his day,” Leed said at last. “I 
was sorry to learn of his death. It’s rare to find a capable commander 
and a skilled diplomat in one and the same person.” 

“You haven’t answered my question,” replied Claus, his guttural 
accent becoming more noticeable. 

“On the contrary, sir. A man like Sir William knew how to use 
the Indians against the enemies of the Crown and at the same time 
keep them under control. Give me another William Johnson and I 
will be the first to support the use of Indian irregulars.” 

“That’s an elegant way of saying you’re opposed to it,” Guy put in. 

“Far from it,” the other man replied. “It’s a way of telling you that 
I understand the delicacy of your mission. I think I’m the only one 
in this room.” 

“Nonetheless, you think the Indians are too undisciplined to 
fight on our side.” 

“Discipline, Colonel, allows us to delude ourselves that war 
is a game of chess among gentlemen.” Teed spoke as if he were 
commenting on the taste of the wine, but his eyes were dark with 
an unease that seemed to be gnawing at the depths of his soul. “An 
idea with which we officers like to divert ourselves.” His face twisted 
once more into a grimace. “But those who know America, as we do, 
know that this war will be a very unusual one. Without rules, and 
with unpredictable scenarios.” He stared resolutely at the other two, 
a huge mental force battling within a flawed container. “Civil war, 
the bloodiest kind. The English know that, for it cost one of their 
kings his head. That’s what frightens cowards like Carleton.” A slight 
gesture was enough to express his lack of respect for the governor of 
Canada. “They know that the Indians are the ideal fighters for this 
kind of conflict, and they are afraid of them. Afraid of what might 
be unleashed.” 

Guyjohnson became aware of an irritatingpatch of sweat beneath 
his collar. He felt as if someone had stolen all of the noises in the 
room, as if sounds had ceased to spread. Mouths opened mutely. 
Peter’s bow stroked the strings without drawing from them a single 
note. Heels and soles struck a cotton wool floor. Every body, every 
movement was absurd and inhuman. He felt as if he was surrounded 
by sheets of glass. The two square yards encompassing him, Claus 

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and Leed was a fragment of an alien world, superimposed over the 
world of the party like a patch of oil on water, floating without being 

“Your words are truly unusual, Sir Theodore.” 

The veteran moved his stiff and asymmetrical torso like a 
marionette. “Do you find them inappropriate for a loyal soldier of 
His Majesty?” Teed embraced the room with a single gesture of his 
hand. “And if I were to tell you that in the face of the spectacle of 
these aristocrats I can’t help feeling a scrap of sympathy for those 
who are weary of financing their luxuries with their own taxes, 
would you think I was a traitor ?” 

Guy exchanged a nervous glance with Claus. What was Teed 
getting at? Perhaps the mortar had struck his head as well, and 
beneath that wig his skull was deformed, his mind damaged. 

“ Well, you would be mistaken. And very much so,” Teed concluded. 
“I would be willing to do anything to safeguard the unity of the 
Empire.” He turned to stare at Guy Johnson. “What about you?” 

“I don’t understand what you mean.” 

The veteran nodded toward Brant, who was once more the object 
of attention of the master of the house and his guests. 

“Stirring up the dogs of war against other Englishmen, even if 
they are enemies of the king,” Leed declared. “It takes guts to do 
that. A great faith in God and in George III.” He clicked his heels. 
“Gentlemen. It has been an honor.” Again a half bow, a smile, and 
he walked away. 

The two gentlemen stood and watched him dragging his leg, like 
an old wounded animal. The unease that they shared kept both of 
them silent. 

“So this is what the Indians do. They stand apart and observe our 
strange customs.” 

Philip Lacroix swung around. The woman was dressed in blue, 
with a string of pearls around her neck. Her skin, pale as linen, was 
scattered with freckles that disappeared below her decollete. She was 
solidly built, and carried herself with confidence. She seemed to have 
appeared out of nowhere, and had an adult face, with features barely 
softened by cosmetics. Her golden hair reflected the light of the room. 
Philip stared at her in silence. Then he seemed to recollect himself. 

“I’m sorry, madam, I fear I don’t understand.” 

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The woman smiled. “I mean that you look like a student of natural 
history poring over illustrations of exotic animals.” 

Philip didn’t know what to think. Were the womans words a joke 
or something else ? 

The woman stretched out a hand. “Tady Florence Mowbray.” 
“Philip Tacroix.” 

The woman stood there, puzzled, waiting for her hand to be 
kissed, then opened the fan that dangled from her wrist and smiled. 
“I certainly wasn’t expecting Hercules Kerkabon.” 

“And you aren’t Mademoiselle de Saint-Yves.” 

“Thank heavens ! You’ve really read L’Ingenu ? What do you think 
of it?” 

Philip replied in Voltaire’s own words. 

“A good fairy tale. I like the fairy tales of philosophers, I laugh at 
those of children and hate those of impostors.” 

Tady Mowbray’s eyes betrayed sincere surprise. 

“No one else in this room could quote it from memory like 
that. Allowing that anyone’s read it. Are the contes philosophiques 
circulating in the American forests?” 

“Many European things are circulating in the American forests,” 
Philip replied. 

Tady Mowbray screened her face with the circle of her fan and 
fluttered it in front of her nose to keep the sweat from melting her rouge. 

“We don’t really know anything about your country. We read 
Voltaire, who emphatically sides against America.” 

“He likes England,” Philip commented. 

“Perhaps. In fact I think he likes to vex his countrymen. He’s a 
provocateur, the subtlest in Europe.” She paused, as if deciding 
whether to risk going further or stopping. Finally she added, 
“Rousseau is a gray figure in comparison, don’t you think? And 
besides, not French, but Swiss, a quite different race. Oh, forgive 
me, I haven’t asked you if you know. . .” 

“. . .the Swiss ?” Philip cut in. “No. But I have read Emile” 
“Astonishing,” said the lady, coming a foot closer. “And. . .” she 
weighed the question, “. . .which side are you on?” 

Philip looked at her, puzzled. 

“Of the two champions, which do you choose, which side are you 
on?” she specified. “You’re no one today if you haven’t an opinion 
on the matter.” 

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T 94 


“What matter?” 

“Well, you, in a sense. I cannot miss the opportunity to be 
enlightened by someone directly involved.” 

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” 

She brushed his arm with her fingertips. 

“The savage, the ingenu, the natural man. Do you think you’re the 
model of the original man, virtuous and uncorrupted, or a latecomer 
to the world who has yet to attain a state of civilization?” 

Philip considered the question and decided to say what he really 

“I belong to the People of the Flint, guardians of the eastern 
portal of the Longhouse. I am a son of the Wolf clan. I pray to God 
in the manner of the French papists and I have fought for the King 
of England. The philosophers have never set foot in America and 
have never met an Indian.” 

The woman smiled wide with wonder. “ Mon Dieu, this is Alexan- 
der cutting the Gordian knot. You are right: declaring an opinion 
on everything, especially things one doesn’t know about, is one 
of the sicknesses of the age. Typical of the French, I would add.” 
She half-turned around him, glancing at the room and bowing 
her head slightly in greeting toward some of the guests. Then she 

“Your story must be rather more interesting than any little moral 
tale. I’m sure you’re descended from some great king or other.” 

“I didn’t know my parents,” Philip replied. “The Canadian 
missionaries picked me up when I was two years old.” 

“So you’re an orphan,” observed Tady Mowbray, more seriously. 
“And a bachelor?” 

“I had a wife and a daughter. They died many years ago.” 

The woman gave herself a slap on the hand. 

“Excuse my indiscretion.” 

All around them, the room pulsed with movement and voices. 

“Are you married?” 

“Yes. I have bartered my virtue for a greater good.” The words 
emerged through a forced smile. “A county, to be precise. But I had 
the good idea of demanding an education, so that I would not be as 
ignorant as an animal.” 

Philip didn’t know what to say. She seemed amused by the effect 
of her own words. 

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“Lord Mowbray demands the utmost discretion from me, and 
asks that I do not contradict him in public. A cultured woman is 
more than these people can endure. As you see, Monsieur Lacroix, 
we English are truly civilized. We bargain over everything. That is 
why many philosophers take us as models.” 

Philip glimpsed the face of Joseph, who was being escorted by the 
Earl of Warwick toward a gaggle of overexcited women. 

“But come now,” Lady Mowbray suggested, without wasting any 
time. “Let us go to the aid of the prince, for the show is about to 

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7 . 

The Italians were crazy about “machinery.” 

Not like the Germans. The Germans, at the most, erected an 
obelisk or a statue — a cherub, an angel with open wings, an equestrian 
in honor of the customer. Rough-and-ready works of plaster and 
cardboard, a few days of sweat, and the rest of the eff ort was spent on 
the fires: mixing the powders, testing the fuses. At the right moment, 
the obelisk or the statue opened up or burst into flames, and the 
rockets went oft from inside. 

Not so the Italians. The Italians built fairy-tale castles out of 
wood, canvas, and papier-mache, with sliding or folding walls and 
an orgy of trompe I’oeil and fake perspectives. The Italians erected 
arches, domes, cathedral facades, with the fireworks hidden inside 
gargoyles and hauts-reliefs. 

The machine: that was the important thing. Without the machine, 
the fireworks were “naked.” That was what one of the master firework- 
makers had said, mixing languages as if they were different types 
of gunpowder: Sans de machine, de fires sont nud, compris ? Nud. 
Let de Germans being de Germans, we do dijferent, con I’argent of de 

Why Lord Warwick had insisted on using the Italians no one 
was allowed to know. Mr. Abbott, the Earl’s master of ceremonies, 
preferred the Germans. Leaner, but precise and trustworthy. And 
yet, throughout the whole of Europe, it was the Italian firework- 
makers who enjoyed the best reputation. The Italians built their 
own glory on the embellishment of ideas born elsewhere, adding a 
flamboyant, clownish touch. 

With them was an architect, one Guidalberto Rizzi. Abbott had 
seen his designs: a building with no recognizable style, a sumptuous 
fa9ade supported by porticos soared upward in a forest of pillars and 
capitals, and at the top loomed towers and vertical cannon from 
which the fireworks would explode. At the very top was a revolving 

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circular platform ringed with unicorns, Chinese dragons and lions 
like those of the Republic of Venice. Flames would emerge from 
their jaws, to be extinguished immediately by jets of water from the 
trunks of two wooden elephants hidden behind the trees, which 
would themselves be lifted up and then suspended in the air by a 
play of hoses before exploding in an orgy of red, white and blue 

Lord Warwick was not one to quibble over costs, and had 
consented to every detail of Rizzi’s design. Abbott had hired the 
craftsmen and laborers and got hold of the materials. A month of 
work, during which the avenues of the estate had been crammed 
with carts and overrun with bare-chested employees. Scaffolding 
went up, walkways spread, buckets traveled on pulleys and fell every 
now and again, narrowly missing people’s heads. Warwick greeted 
these incidents with applause from the terrace; Abbott didn’t know 
what to think. In the office cart, the pyrotechnicians mixed zinc, 
antimony and red arsenic. 

Abbott was worried. Even the choice of orchestral accompani- 
ment struck him as risky. Music for the Royal Fireworks. Everyone 
remembered the big bang of ’49. That had been the Italians, too. 

A disaster: premature explosions, fires, fatalities, injuries, brawls 
and arrests. The king and his retinue had fled, putting a seal of 
disapproval on the entire fiasco. 

Abbott feared that he was about to witness something similar, 
though on a smaller scale. Horrible presentiments ran through his 

The sky was Prussian blue. The sole Germanic element of the 

It took the servants a few minutes to extinguish all the lamps 
and candles in the panoramic drawing room. Gradually the great 
windows ceased to reflect the lights, smiles and dazzling colors of 
the assemblage, and became transparent. Everyone saw his double 
disappearing and found himself in the company of the dense, heavy 
blue vault of the sky. 

Philip Lacroix Ronaterihonte had never seen fireworks. 

Joseph Brant Thayendanegea had never seen fireworks. 

Peter Warren Johnson had seen fireworks in Philadelphia, but he 
suspected that this spectacle would be a far richer experience. 

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With poles and winches, the workmen removed the canvases 
from the bizarre construction in the middle of the park, which was 
lit by long torches stuck into the ground and big lanterns hanging 
from the trees. 

Peter looked around in search of his uncle and the Great Devil, 
but couldn’t see them. 


The crowd gave a start and the windows trembled. The sky was 
still not illuminated. 

A short distance away, a second explosion: 


And then: 


The third salvo was the signal. A flash silently lit up the sky. The 
orchestra launched into Handel’s overture. 

From a dome at the top of the temple a wall of fire appeared and 
became a cascade of red, white and blue flames. The Union Jack. 

A sequence of frightening reports drowned out the music, 
as bright green trails emerged from every point of the building, 
climbed into the sky and brought ephemeral stars to life. 

The Italians loved noise. Into their spectacles they always inserted 
the greatest possible number of “dark explosions,” filled with black 
powder. “Abundance of grand noise, Mister Ebbott, is de Italian 
style, ssssssss, ka-boom! Boom, boo-boom! Tutto scoppia, compris ?” 

Abbott, standing on a little hill, enjoyed a good view of the 
machine and of the whole of the display. On the left he also saw the 
palace, the real one, with the fireworks reflected in the glass panes 
of the panoramic drawing room. One palace both opposite and 
inside the other, as if the stone one were being boarded by its flame- 
wrapped double and had given up defending itself, surrendered to a 
contemplation of its own destruction. 

At that moment he understood the Italians’ intent. 

Philip understood, too. Teaning against the back wall of the 
drawing room, beside Tady Mowbray, he watched the spectacle over 
a horizon of wigs and tiaras. 

Might not the artificial palace be a caricature ofTord Warwick’s? 
The pointless pomp, the statues, the frills, the hanging colonnades. 

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The firework-makers were confronting the English aristocracy with 
the spectacle of itself. Th e. jouissance of the master of the house 
reached its peak in this bonfire of imperial vanities. 

A lion puffed out a jet of fire, feebler than expected. It resolved 
into a rain of embers that fell onto the lawn, grazing the machine’s 

So it was that a column in the portico caught fire. 

Before anyone could intervene, the flames leaped to another 

Meanwhile the elephants remained hidden. 

From behind a hedge some bare-torsoed workmen appeared, 
each carrying a bucket of water. 

By now the fire had spread to a third column. 

Abbott hurled himself down the slope. 

The fire was devouring the facade. Rockets were still going oft, 
in a frenzy of artificial stars. They rose and fell with equal speed: 
definitive sunsets replaced by swift new dawns. Clusters of sparks 
surged and sank, reflected in the eyes of the audience. 

Abbott reached the hedge behind which the tireurs were working. 
He saw the Italians and began to rage at them. 

“Irresponsible idiots ! I knew you would cause a disaster !” 

The Italians looked at him as if he were a man possessed. One of 
them showed him the palms of his hands, either to calm him down 
or keep him at a distance. 

“Calm, friend, tranquille\ fa fait part du spectacle! Is de Italian 
style, maybe forget ?” Then, he turned toward the workmen, stripped 
to the waist, and ordered: “ Tirez la corde, now” 

Another pyrotechnist, covered with tattoos from his chin to his 
fingers, pointed behind Abbott and gestured to him to turn around. 

At that moment the entire facade collapsed. 

Abbott stood open-mouthed. 

Peter, Philip, Joseph and all the others stood open-mouthed. The 
musicians stopped playing. A prolonged ooooohhh of astonishment 
filled the drawing room. 

Behind the facade that had been destroyed by the fire there was a 
kind of pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, a disc of flame, a replica 
of the sun, cast a white light all around. 

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The pyramid rose, hoisted by tie-beams and winches. At its base 
dozens of rockets were lit, so that colored flames seemed to be 
thrusting the pyramid up from the earth, launching it toward the 
sky. A sky that lit up with stars and grew tinged, in one final big 
flash, with red, white and blue. 

The applause was deafening. Everyone turned toward Tord 
Warwick to congratulate him. The master of the house smiled 

“And the elephants ? Where are the elephants ?” Abbott wondered. 

“Weren’t there supposed to be elephants?” he asked the Italians. 
“In homage to our Indian guests ?” 

The Italians looked at him as if he were a worm that had crawled 
from under a rock, before exploding with laughter. 

“ Ils sont Indiens dzlmerique. Elephants live in India, imbezel !” 

Night. Peter, on his way back to the inn, felt ten feet tall. The 
wood and the fabrics of the carriage could hardly contain him. The 
excitement of the crowd, the music, the fireworks still rang out, 
echoed, exploded in his mind. They flowed in his veins along with 
his blood, dense and strong. His heart beat like a drum, a smile was 
painted on his face. The carriage jolted, but Peter felt no discomfort, 
as if his limbs, filled with excitement, were immune to unease or 

He was at the center of the planet, in the middle of a group of 
heroes whom Tondon had welcomed, hat in hand. He was tipsy, 
with spirits and liqueurs and wines that had tasted like nectar, 
flavors very different from the rum of the colonies. The women and 
girls — some had looked at him, he had noticed — were nymphs, the 
drawing room where the ball had been held was Parnassus. The men 
had treated him with the respect due to a victorious young warrior. 

Peter looked out of the window. The night was dark, and in 
many places there were no street lights. He felt the bulk of the 
buildings weighing down on the vehicle. Tondon was a vast fortress, 
and its ramparts defended all its loyal subjects, reaching the four 
corners of the world, all the way to the Mohawk Valley, all the way 
to Canajoharie. Peter thought the future was all the colors of the 

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A damp cellar, without plaster or tiles. In the darkest corner, a gang 
of rats were gorging themselves on a dead cat. The heat of the stove 
was like a drop in the sea of icy air. Rays of pale sunlight and excited 
shouts filtered down through the air vents. 

An ogre in an apron poured wine from demijohns into bottles, 
without filling them. A disfigured man polished a pewter tray. 
Another man, the thinnest of the three, scooped powder into a 
tea-spoon, poured it into the claret, and added water as he counted 

“One hundred and seven, one hundred and eight, one hundred 
and nine. . .” 

From the door at the back two individuals burst into the room, 
as elegant as lords compared with the others. Under their overcoats 
they wore rough linen jackets and woolen trousers. The taller of 
them even had a wig, threadbare and dirty, but well made. In his 
hand he held a crumpled broadsheet. 

“Gentlemen,” he announced with emphasis. “The Daily Courant 
has done us the honor of an article.” 

“Christ in a shitbucket! Read!” 

“Hush. You’re making me lose count. Where was I ?” 

“There’s a letter from the blackbird we plucked clean the other 
night. He says if anyone doesn’t believe him, he can go to Dr. Flint, 
and ask him what kind of a state he was in after his treatment from 
the Indians.” 

“Arrow in the arse. What horrors, Dr. Flint!” 

“One hundred and eight. You’d got to one hundred and eight.” 
“Horsedung, one hundred and ten at the very least. I’ll have to 
start over.” 

“Teave it,” the newcomer stopped him. “We must talk.” 

“Some war paint for tonight?” asked the accountant. 

“That too.” 

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The disfigured man smiled. His one good eye was watery from 
gin. He had no plans for the last night of the year, apart from a little 
boy who owed him a favor. 

“Bring the wine,” the lordly man in the wig ordered the commoner 
in the apron. “I want to try it before you adulterate it.” 

He folded the paper he carried and went and sat on an abandoned 
wooden chest on the other side of the room. The other four dragged 
over boxes of their own and formed a circle. They passed him the 
bottle. He took a sip, then slipped off his wig and began combing 
it with his fingers. On his uncovered head was the tuff of an Indian 
warrior and on his brow a tattooed Turkish crescent. With a gesture 
he invited the other lord to speak. 

The latter was a pale, fair-haired man, syphilitic-looking, with a 
beer belly. A beggar to look at, but not many people would have 
given him a penny. 

“So,” he cleared his throat. “The story is this: Here in Soho they’re 
chucking everyone in solitary. Mobs, packs and screeves. The odd high- 
Toby on the Tottenham Court Road. Turnips like ours, there’s only one 
who carries ’em off. Now, Dread Jack, he has a tightly run organization 
and plays a merry prank, he does: he thieves and he thief-takes, he steals 
and sells on, grasses up the buyers and pockets the takings.” 

“We’d no such bastards in Covent Garden,” the thin man 
observed sadly. 

“We had Judge Fielding’s sleuths, on the other hand, and we had 
to make a run for it.” 

“Come on, you pieces of shit,” the Emperor cut him short. “The 
move might do us good. The Garden was getting too thick. No 
sleuths hereabouts, just the dodderers of the Guard, you go uh! 
and off' they run straight to the parish church. Put Dead Jack down 
below and the game is done. All the business is ours, and all the 
flimpers on our side.” 

“Smoothly done,” spat the disfigured man. “But this isn’t just any 
old goney. He won’t give a fuck for a gang of gaffed redskins.” 

“Don’t talk horseshit, Cole. We are the Mohocks of Tondon, 
by my tuff we are that. And this thing here,” he struck his tattooed 
forehead with his hand, “I didn’t do it yesterday.” 

“We know that, Dave,” the ogre recited the old chant. “Your 
grandfather was Hendrick, King of the Mohocks, who came to 
Tondon and had himself a fine fuck.” 

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20 3 

“Exactly so. And now the whole city is slobbering over the 
Indians, just as they did back then. If we were Mr. Nobody’s gang, 
he wouldn’t even have written that letter to the Courant .” 

“And you reckon Dread Jack reads the paper?” 

“He can barely write his name, but what has that got to do with 
anything? The herd need only hear our name to shit their little 

“And what do we get out of it?” The accountant wrinkled his 
nose in a catlike grimace. 

“They shit themselves, they pay up,” the Emperor declared. “Fear 
is the soul of trade. The city savages can’t wait to join us. The old 
men of the Guard will pray to God; Fielding’s sleuths will be curled 
up in their Bow Street kennel. Dead Jack will think twice before 
waging war on the London Mohocks.” 

Having said this, he drew from his pocket a little velvet-covered 
box, took from it a goose-quill toothpick and poked it between his 
gums and his rotten teeth. 

“And our cargo of stolen wine?” asked the ogre, pointing at the 
demijohns. “They were cooking that one up.” 

“Exactly. Three days have passed. Have you heard them 

“No, but all in good time.” 

“Fuck time. This isn’t a game of chess, we can’t sit around waiting. 
We have made the first bet, and now let’s up the ante.” 

“Up the ante? What with?” 

The Emperor put the toothpick down, fished out a lump of 
something that looked like sugar and stuffed it into his mouth. 
With a look of disgust, he drained the bottle, gargled with it and 
spat the whole mixture on the ground. 

“Alum,” he said, his index finger pointing to his throat. “A kick 
like nothing else. A gentleman. . .” 

“That’s right, Dave,” the ogre agreed. “A gentleman is like a horse. 
What in hell’s name are we bidding, then?” 

The other man pulled his lips over his teeth. “When you are 
con/trained to /peak like thi/ and they’re taking you up the ai /e, how 
then will you earn your living? By /licking cock/’?” 

A rattle of chesty laughter echoed around the cellar. The ogre 
replied with a gesture, inviting his mates to take care of his own 

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“What were we saying? Oh, yes, simple: we go, we introduce 
ourselves, and if they want a refund well gladly provide it.” 

Silence, broken only by the squeaking of rats. The disfigured man 
stood to open a new bottle. He took a long swig. It was one of the 
ones already treated; he didn’t seem to notice the difference. The 
accountant was the first to speak. 

“I’m in. When?” 

The Emperor thrust on his wig and leaped to his feet. 

“Tonight. Don’t you want to celebrate? Tomorrow is the 
beginning of the Mohock year.” 

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One-Eyed Fred clocked the blowens from behind the bar of his inn. 
The inn stood in a courtyard off Tottenham Court Road, in the 
middle of Soho’s Cutthroat Island. Twenty years before, Fred had 
abandoned masts and hulls forever to come on dry land, and with 
the few pennies he’d earned between stealing and smuggling, he had 
bought himself this hovel to turn into a dun jasper and drink in holy 
peace, and let saltwater go hang. It bore no sign, but from the day 
he’d opened it, it had had a name: One-Eye’s Tavern. Business had 
been smart, earnings steady, no shortage of ackers in the bag, and 
just enough patter to inspire respect. The rest came from his blind 
eye, because one good one was enough to clock what needed to be 
clocked; a few scars to enhance his already expressive features; the 
twisted sneer and the four tooth-pegs left in his gobhole, sharp and 
rotten as a dead shark’s. He had ended up a landlord. 

Other times. Then dun, slack, flaying bastard old age had curdled 
his bones and guts, forcing him to take on a boss, a fly and shitty 
jasper he’d known since nipling days, name of James, now Dread 
Jack. Ran a gang of right nasties, cracksmen and flagsters every one. 
All day glugging gin and stuffing their gropuses with the fruits of 
their swailing and griff ing. 

One shitty year was ending, another beginning. Sod-all changed, 
and if it did it was for the worse, that was what One-Eye thought. 
The whores, in spite of the terrible cold, wore leather jerkins, as if 
they had nothing on underneath, with their backs and hams bare 
and their ninnies all on show, and wide skirts to protect the tools of 
their trade. The whores passed from one table to another, with gin 
and wobbling merchandise, at each grope a high, coarse shriek, and 
then they hooted, they hooted when one of Dread’s thugs stuck his 
canister in their ninnies. In the end, One-Eye, from behind the bar, 
only had to pour gin and clock the meat on display, some of it fresh, 
some of it rancid. 

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Dread Jack slouched on a bench resting against a wall, tended 
to by Betty, known as Glut, along with Ellie, who was missing an 
arm but had in compensation received from nature two stupendous 
mams. Other thugs sat around with all the bloated swagger you 
might have expected of jaspers of such lowly rank. All swearing and 
belching and coughing up phlegm. 

Things got interesting when all of a sudden the gob of 
Tom, known as Trombone, let out a roar like a wounded bear. 
Trombone Tom, the gang’s chief night-prowler, had been sitting 
apart from the rest at another table for a bit, prating with Fat- 
Arse Mary. All of a sudden, gin and the horn and all, the sauce 
running in his veins had all gone to his head and Trombone, after 
giving that great yell of his, had thrown Fat-Arse’s skirt over her 
head, slipped his cock in her notch and was hammering away at 
her from behind. 

Now this, after a few initial shitty comments, had brought back 
a strange kind of calm: the women were no longer shrieking, and 
some were even chuckling, but quietly, and the slumped jaspers were 
absorbed as if watching a play or listening to a roadside storyteller. 
Mary groaned ecstatically from under her skirts. Trombone brayed 
and strained like the ogre he was. One-Eye, behind the bar, was well 
horned, and starting to give himself a good tug down below. God in 
a shitbucket, what a bugger it is to reach a dreary old age when no 
one strokes your knob. And here, right in the middle of the show, 
and thanks to the sad calm that had fallen upon the tavern, all of a 
sudden One-Eye heard a great loud bellow. It came from the gloom 
out in the street. Fred pricked up his earflaps, the only one interested 
in the thing going on outside. 

He flies like a hawk 
He darts like a sparrow 

The bellowing roar was getting closer. 

Gets what he wants 
With his bow and his arrow 

Fred heard the sound of rapid footsteps and then clocked the door 
opening with a bang and a jasper coming in with a frontage you 

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wouldn’t believe, wearing a mad tuft instead of hair and with a half- 
moon tattooed on his forehead, as he yelled with that same voice: 

The Emperor s ax 

Smashes bone to the marrow ! 

One-Eyed Fred barely had time to duck his canister under the bar 
before that mad jasper hurled his weapon straight ahead of him, 
landing it in the belly of a barrel just behind where the barkeep had 

A mighty great yell followed, like a battle cry, and behind the 
tufted jasper the rafters started pouring in, with faces painted and 
carrying maces and cudgels and real bows and arrows ready for use. 
For Dread Jack’s gang it was one shitty surprise, and the brawl that 
began was of epic proportions, albeit all one way. The rafters dealt 
unbridled blows to canisters and gobholes, while the half-moon 
Emperor strode forward to grab the ax from the barrel and then 
climbed up onto the bar, right above One-Eye’s hiding head. Up 
there, swaggering and triumphant, he began to clock the scene with 
the greatest joy. Trombone Tom, cock still out, had just taken an 
arrow in that very region, and was wailing and howling like a dog; 
the blowens, Fat-Arse more than anyone else, were screeching like 
hawks and clustering in areas less riven with thrusts and slaps and 
blows; Jack’s jaspers, stunned and plastered, had tried to get their 
mawleys on their swails, but the mad jokers were on them right 
away, reducing those smilers and gobholes to shapeless masks, sauce 
all over the shop and tooth-pegs, good ones even, flying out like spit. 
A consummate defeat. 

It was then, from his pedestal, that the tuff with the ax called to 
the beaten and terrified jaspers with great waves of his arms and a 
honeyed voice: 

“Ladies and gentlemen, pray lend me your ears. I, Taw Waw 
Eben Zan Kaladar II, Emperor of the London Mohock Nation, 
hereby officially declare the Mohock year open. From this moment, 
therefore, you all fall under my benign and balanced authority, from 
which you will draw nothing but good and a long and untroubled 
life. We have come to inform you, lest you be surprised by any of 
the, shall we say, changes that will from this very day beautify the 
existence of our neighborhood.” 

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Dread Jack, who had pressed himself to the wall and used three 
strumpets as his shields, took a few steps into the open, raising a 
mighty great cudgel in one of his mawleys. Quite purple in the 
chops, he thundered in a hoarse, mean voice: 

“And who the devil might you be, you stinking interloper, hurling 
all kinds of shit around in other people’s houses without the slightest 
respect for anyone? Jump down here so that I can turn you inside 
out like a pair of shitten trousers.” 

“I knew it, it’s the great Dreeead,” said the Emperor. 

And before he’d finished speaking he jumped down and landed 
the hatchet in Jack’s skull, sending him sprawling. After a few 
squawks from the women, silence settled over the whole of the inn. 
Even the thugs of that shaven-headed jasper who called himself 
the Emperor looked scared and surprised. Taw Waw II delivered a 
kick to Jack’s guts, as Jack drew his last few breaths in a pool of his 
own blood. Then the tuft straddled him and cleanly scalped him. 
Everyone looked on in terror. The man waved Jack’s scalp in the air: 
“Ladies and gentlemen. From today onward you work for me. 
That’s all. Happy New Year.” He struck the bar a few times with his 
open hand and added, “Old man, you can come out from under 
there, the customers need you. We’re going now.” 

He turned to the thugs and quickly, one after another, just as they 
had entered, they left. 

One-Eyed Fred, cautiously raising his face above the bar, found 
himself thinking that perhaps yes, the New Year would be different. 
An Indian year. 

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10 . 

From the Daily Courant, 5 January 1776. 


In the last edition of the year just past, we published a letter from a 
gentleman in Mayfair, telling of the ferocious aggression and robbery 
suffered by him at the hands of alleged Mohock Indians. Since then, 
many readers have written to us doubting the authenticity of the 
letter, or at least the facts therein described. Humble servants of the 
Truth, we had therefore gone back to the author and checked the 
circumstances, and were about to publish an accurate defense of his 
honesty, when apiece of information reached our Grub Street offices 
that, on its own, is worth more than one hundred such defenses. 

On the first of this month, the first day of the year, shortly after 
midnight, a squadron of Indians burst into “One-Eye’s Tavern” 
on Tottenham Court Road, assaulting the locals with hatchets 
and arrows, injuring divers of them and finally killing, with the 
barbarous ritual known as scalping, a certain James HOTBURN, 
thirty-one years of age, resident of Soho. The innkeeper and some 
women present have already given eyewitness accounts of these 
events to judges at the Old Bailey. 

It is unnecessary to assert that the protagonists of these events 
cannot be the same Indians currently visiting our capital. Thoughts 
have flown straight to the sadly well-known MOHOCK CLUB, 
which Londoners still remember with horror and which we, for the 
benefit of younger readers and those with dim memories, will also 
recall in a few lines. 

In the spring of 1712, two years after the visit of King Hendrick 
to Queen Anne, a group of ruffians who had christened themselves 

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the Mohock Club began to overrun London at night, in search of 
passersby to molest, using methods of rare cruelty. Among these: 

closing the victim in a barrel and rolling him along Snow Hill; 

slipping fish-hooks into an unfortunate victim’s cheeks and 
pulling him around on a line; 

overturning carriages into piles of filth; 

cutting off hands and noses; 

crushing a victim’s nose and pulling out his eyes with the 
fingers (“tipping the lion”); 

forcing victims to cut capers by waving a sword between their 
legs (the “dancing master”); 

turning ladies upside down and committing indecencies upon 
their legs thus exposed (the “tumbler”). 

It appears that behind the guise of those savages hid some scions 
of the city’s aristocracy in search of distractions. 

Today’s Mohocks we are more inclined to believe are common, 
but dangerous, delinquents. 


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11 . 

Orange peel and chewed tobacco bombarded the audience below 
like divine scourges, hurled by servants and lackeys hiding in the 
boxes, keeping the seats warm for their masters. In the dress circle, 
walking sticks and fans tapped the balustrade. Someone called for 
the actors, someone else for the Indian princes. These two factions 
exchanged spittle. The orchestra launched into a solemn melody, 
and shouts and general hubbub turned into song. The lyrics 
concerned the roast beef of Old England and its many advantages 
over the ragouts of the French. Joseph swapped a glance with Philip, 
but didn’t say a word. 

Warwick opened up a passage for them to the central bench in 
the front row, like an Indian guide on a trail filled with brambles. 
He moved the obstacles surely and methodically. A greeting to the 
right, a pinch to the left, the walking stick pointed straight ahead of 
him, the belly right behind him. As soon as his guests were seated, 
the earl sat down next to Joseph. 

“The aristocrats of London think that the best seats in a theater 
are the ones in the boxes. They cost more than the others, therefore 
they have to be better. If all the seats were the same price, none of 
them would know where to sit. They would have to choose, ponder, 
expose themselves to the possibility of error. It is not the quality of 
the objects, but the sleep of reason that generates luxury.” 

Having said this, he brought his right hand to his heart and 
intoned the last verse of the song. The music speeded up to the final 
lines, drowned out by the whistles of people wanting the curtain to 
go up. An orange projectile brushed Warwick s cheek and landed on 
the parapet that protected actors and musicians from the excesses of 
the crowd. 

“The first row in the middle is absolutely the best,” Warwick 
whispered, as if dictating his last will and testament to Joseph. “The 
stage is in front of you, very close, and the thrown fruit seldom 

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reaches all the way here. In the boxes, to follow the action properly 
you have to lean forward, and anyone overhead is waiting only for 
that to pour a glass of water, or worse.” 

At that moment the wings began to wobble and the applause of 
the public in Drury Lane accompanied the raising of the curtain. 
The Chorus entered: a tall man wearing a long velvet tunic and a soft 
beret. His stentorian voice rose above the roar of the crowd, which 
faded to a buzz. 

“Two households, both alike in dignity, 

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, 

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, 

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. 

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes 
A pair of star-crossd lovers take their life; 

Whole misadventured piteous overthrows 
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.” 

A coarse cry rang out over the crowd. 

“Hey! Those are the Indian princes!” 

Rows of necks began to twist in all directions. The buzz grew loud 
again, eyes searched up and down for the cause of such amazement, 
until Joseph and Philip were identified. Neither of them dared to 
move a muscle: such people’s attention seemed like a threat. Lord 
Warwick restrained a smug little smile. 

“The Indians! By Jove, the Indians!” 

“Let’s have a look!” 

“I can only see their heads.” 

“We want to see their faces!” 

“Give us the Indians!” 

The coryphaeus began to gesticulate and raised his voice again. 
“Gentlemen, ladies, please, we are here for Romeo and Juliet. . .” 

“We can have them any day. We want the Indians!” 

A few apples struck the head of the Chorus, who was forced to 
seek shelter behind one of the wings. 

Lord Warwick got to his feet and struck his stick hard on the ground. 
“Gentlemen, please.” 

A flying vegetable brushed his wig and persuaded him to sit down 
again. He looked at Joseph and shrugged. 

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2I 3 

“It’s the price of fame,” he said, amused, but his expression 
changed as soon as he saw that a gang of brutes had come down into 
the crowd and were trying to push their way through. 

“If you don’t let us see them we’ll come and get them,” cried 
the most excited one, meanwhile delivering scything blows with 
a walking stick. A few steps away, an officer in a red uniform 
unsheathed his sword. Someone shouted: “The guards! The 
guards!” A dwarf with a disproportionately large wig stood on a 
bench, drew a sheet of paper from his waistcoat pocket and started 
to read out heatedly, his voice rising to a falsetto at the end of each 

“It’s the Riot Act,” Warwick explained, pretending to try and 
protect Philip while really using him as a shield. “Here in England 
the freedom of the individual is so dear that the guards cannot 
charge a crowd without first warning them by reading out these 

An elderly, elegantly dressed man strode onto the stage. He placed 
himself in the very middle and spread his arms, his palms open. 

As the audience recognized him, the voices began to fade away. 

Warwick leaned his head toward Joseph. 

“The impresario, David Garrick. He’s the most famous actor in 
Tondon. He has retired from the stage, but he’s still an authority.” 

Having gained a little more silence, the man smiled at the crowd. 

“What attraction is so potent that it o’ercrows the Bard? Tell me, 
what retains you all here amongst the sinks of Tondon rather than 
making for fair Verona?” 

A few voices replied from the back rows. 

“We want to see the Indians!” 

“Right, Mr. Garrick, look, they’re sitting in the first row.” 

David Garrick identified the two copper-skinned gentlemen 
within the crowd. With exaggerated elegance he pointed them out 
to everyone. 

“Then I invite them to join me on this stage, because today Master 
Shakespeare must bow to those who have stolen his scene.” 

Tord Warwick touched Joseph’s elbow. 

“All you have to do is go up there, Your Highness, and bear in 
mind that the next steps you tread will be those of St. James’s Palace.” 

Joseph looked at Philip again. He wouldn’t go on his own. Philip 
nodded reluctantly and they rose to their feet. In the most total 

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2I 4 


silence they approached Garrick, who received them with a graceful 
bow and with a slight gesture invited them to speak. 

Joseph looked at that sea of curious faces and felt uneasy again. 
He had spoken many times at the assemblies of his people. He had 
taken part in councils and meetings. But he had always been seated 
in a circle, among equals. He had never found himself alone in 
front of — against , in fact — such an unfamiliar crowd. The more he 
thought about it, the more his unease mounted. 

The Earl of Warwick, with his index and middle fingers, mimed a 
little man climbing a flight of stairs. 

“Tet them say something!” 

“In English!” 

“No, in their own language!” 

“Their tattoos! We want to see them!” 

“Do a war dance!” 

A member of the audience leaned over the balustrade to bang 
his stick on the head of someone gesticulating below him. The man 
noticed, parried the blow and returned it. The other man riposted. 
Their neighbors were thrilled by the duel, and someone suggested 
betting on whether or not the man up above would fall. 

Oranges and tobacco started flying again. Warwick’s eyes pleaded 
with Joseph, who managed to find his voice. 

“Brothers of London,” he said, then waited for silence to 
embrace the Royal Theatre again. “Brothers of London, many 
of you will be wondering what led Thayendanegea, Two Sticks 
Bound Together, and his brother Ronaterihonte, Keep Faith, 
messengers of the People of the Flint and the Longhouse of the Six 
Nations, to plow the ocean to come here. Some say it is because of 
the quarrel between the American colonies and England. Others 
maintain that we are here to ask help from the king against those 
who are stealing our lands. All of this is true, but it does not 
diminish the curiosity and admiration that we feel for your great 
and magnificent city, rich in things that the Americans can only 
imagine. We feel stronger curiosity only for William Shakespeare, 
and for Romeo and Juliet in particular. If relations between men 
and women, here in England, are as Shakespeare describes, we 
wonder how it can be that London has a million inhabitants. If our 
people adopted the same kind of courtship, we would disappear 
within only a few seasons.” 

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21 5 

Applause. The public laughed, whistled, filled the air with a 
firework display of orange peel. 

The two Indians walked toward the steps. The audience fell silent; 
it was the singular silence of those who do not know what to expect. 
The coryphaeus looked at Garrick with an air of bewilderment. 
Should he leave the stage and call for the curtain, or start again 
where he had left off ? But after an elegant bow to the audience, 
the Great Garrick withdrew. The Chorus remained planted in the 
middle of the stage, not knowing what to do. 

Joseph Brant was already descending the steps to return to his 
place in the audience. Walking behind him, Philip was aware of the 
embarrassment of the coryphaeus. He stepped over and murmured, 
“The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love. . .” 

In the front row some mouths fell open once more. Without 
yielding to his surprise, the coryphaeus began once more: 

“The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, 

And the continuance of their parents’ rage, Which, but their 
children’s end, nought could remove, Is now the two hours’ traffic 
of our stage; The which if you with patient ears attend, What here 
shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.” 

In the crowd, unable to contain his emotion, the Earl of Warwick 
was fidgeting in his seat. He shook hands to his right, his left and 
even behind him, then he hugged Joseph to check that it was really 
him, in flesh and bone. 

“This city won’t be the same when you’ve gone,” he said sadly at 
last. “I’d even go so far as to say that not even Shakespeare will be the 
same again.” He continued in a pleading tone, “You must promise 
me that you won’t leave Tondon before the summer. You have to 
promise me that or I will do everything in my power to postpone 
your audience with King George.” 

Joseph promised, then stared raptly at the stage, and the earl, his 
hands joined on the pommel of his stick, forced himself to remain 
silent until the end of the scene. 

In one of the central loggias a group of gentlemen was pretending 
to pay attention to the play. Their voices were whispers; they kept 
their faces in shadow. Their elegant, sober clothes denoted their 
membership in the class of city businessmen. They sat side by side, 
but it was clear that one of them was the group’s center of gravity. 

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The faces of the others, tilted slightly toward him, were focused on 
his face, and the hissed comments that came from them were all 
aimed in his direction. 

“That clown Warwick had to foist the Indians off on us . . . Next 
time it’ll be the cannibals of Africa.” 

From a silver box, the leader took a pinch of snuff and snorted it, 
then wiped his nostrils with an embroidered handkerchief. 

“The papers aren’t writing about anything else,” observed the 
shadow next to him. 

“Do they really hope to bring the savages into fashion?” a third 
remarked contemptuously. 

“They want to make us digest the idea that the Crown is entrusting 
the defense of its own interests in America to these primitives,” 
added the one who had not yet spoken. 

The man in the middle of the row took another sniff of his 
tobacco, then closed the little box and put it back in his pocket 
before glancing up distractedly. The duel between Mercutio and 
Tybalt was progressing on the stage — clean strokes with wooden 
swords. Some members of the audience were urging them on as if 
they didn’t already know who would win. 

“The problem, my dear Cavendish,” said the man in the middle, 
still looking up, “is that the interests of the Crown are increasingly 
divergent from our own. With each day that passes this conflict 
with the settlers is costing us thousands of pounds. Half of our 
business contacts have gone up in smoke. The American ports are 
being closed, the goods are being confiscated or thrown into the 
sea. The army was supposed to reestablish order in a few weeks, and 
more than six months have passed already.” 

“They should have supported Burke. In the whole Chamber he’s 
the only one with a bit of common sense: he predicted everything.” 
“In spite of your esteem for him, Mr. Pole, the government has a 
completely different opinion.” 

“Then perhaps we should have a change of government.” 

“Not before it has lost the war,” declared the gentleman sitting in 
the middle. 

“Do you really think our army could be defeated?” 

“I know little of military affairs, gentlemen. Certainly, progress 
cannot be defeated. We are waging a war to guarantee the East 
India Company sales of its tea stocks in America. You realize that 

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21 7 

if things go on as they are, not an ounce will be sold ? In fact, they 
tell me that the Americans have started drinking coffee in protest. 
This is what happens when you force the hand of the market. How 
many times have I repeated to the Ministry of Trade that the market 
must be free — free, for the love of God. Supply and demand, supply 
and demand. All the coats of arms in the world can’t equal a good 

“Are you aware that Mr. Adam Smith is sending his theories to 
the printers as we speak?” 

“Thank the Tord, I will no longer feel like a preacher in the desert. 
He is a respected authority.” 

“We must set about financing the distribution of the work 
throughout Tondon.” 

“Hundreds, thousands of copies.” 

The man pointed toward Warwick, in the front row. 

“And in the meantime we have to put up with these old parasites ? 
It’s time someone upset the apple cart.” 

The whispers were drowned out by the roar of the audience at 
Mercutio’s death. When the noise subsided, the man sitting in the 
middle began speaking again. 

“They bring a few well-educated Indians here, Indians who know 
Shakespeare, and claim that we’re all falling for them. Ridiculous.” 

“Shameless,” added the shadow sitting to the right. 

“Wretched,” commented the one on the left. 

“Sordid,” concluded the last chorus member, after a moment’s 

The man in the middle rose to his feet. 

“The actors are slack today. Old Garrick could make a better fist 
of it playing all the parts himself.” 

“Even Juliet?” joked one of the others. 

“Of course. Shakespeare may even have impersonated her 

“Unenlightened times,” sneered the other man. 

“No worse than these,” the gentleman retorted. “Our American 
compatriots are asking for free trade and the government is so 
shortsighted as to fraternize with the scalpers. The world has been 
turned upside down.” 

The shadows slipped quietly away, leaving the box empty, like a 
gaping black hole facing the stage. 

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12 . 

Aunt Nancy kept telling her to hold her breath. As soon as 
Esther obeyed, a brawny servant pulled on the laces of her corset, 
compressing her ribs and trapping the air in her lungs. Esther 
thought she was dying, but her little body managed to maintain a 
certain amount of breathing space for itself, just enough to survive. 

“Done,” concluded the servant with a surly smile. 

They turned her toward a mirror resting against the wall. Esther 
looked at the miniature lady in front of her. Tier coiffure brushed the 
top edge of the frame. Decorated with gilded wires, velvet ribbons and 
strips of lace, her hair stood up straight on her head, like the branches of 
a plant on a trellis, before falling in perfect curls. She barely recognized 
her own face. A layer of white lead had made it flat and uniform, like the 
face of a porcelain doll. Tier skirt brushed the floor, three layers of heavy 
fabric, and underneath were knickers that reached to her knees, and silk 
stockings. She wondered how she would manage to pee. Hampered by 
the corset, her breath was short and panting, and her heart thumped 
with panic at being imprisoned in there. 

Aunt Nancy had explained that she had to make a good 
impression. She was a lady now, and society occasions required an 
effort. Would she do it for her father ? She didn’t want to displease 
him, did she? No, Esther didn’t. Aunt Nancy said that up in 
heaven her mother would be proud of her, seeing her so beautiful. 
Beautiful? Esther looked at herself in the mirror again. No, she 
wouldn’t have said so. 

She tried to walk, and felt clumsy and slow. All dressed up like 
that, she wouldn’t be able to run, or even quicken her step, let alone 
hide where no one could find her. She could only revolve on the 
spot, like the figure in the musical box that her father had given her 
the day before: a tiny lady moving in time to the music, on a wooden 

Esther turned toward her little sisters, sitting in a corner. They were 

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2, 9 

looking at her in bafflement, as you might look at someone suddenly 
leaving. Esther understood that this was her parting from them, and 
yet she couldn’t feel sorry. It had to be this way. She had to become a 
lady, learn to spin in place. She could do it. Use the carapace they had 
forced onto her and play the game. She looked again at the gleaming 
surface of the mirror and smiled at herself. From the backward world 
of reflections, her pale double curled a cold sneer. 

In the carriage they sat her next to her father. Opposite them. Lord 
Warwick rested the small of his back against the edge of the seat and 
his hands upon the pommel of his stick. Beside him, Joseph Brant 
smiled vaguely at her. 

Esther observed the wheels of the other carriages running quickly 
by. They sent up splashes of mud over the clothes of the passersby 
and the vendors’ stalls. 

Their coach reached a bridge crammed with a bustle of men 
and things. She had once seen a termites’ nest broken open by the 
woodsmen. She immediately dismissed the image and took a deep 
breath to suppress her desire to retch. Perhaps it was the carriage 
bumping up and down, or perhaps the termites running through 
her head. 

She heard her father speaking, his voice dampened by the noises 
outside and the sounds of the vehicle. 

“Lord Germain is inclined to support our cause. He replied 
solicitously to my letter, asking me to put the unresolved questions 
in writing.” 

“That’s good news,” the earl observed. “Germain is the most 
treacherous Secretary of State for the Colonies we have ever had, 
but he’s the only person who can resolve our problems.” 

Esther’s attention was drawn by a group of little boys who had 
caught and bound a dog and were impaling it on a skewer. Its wails 
were heartrending. Meanwhile another group had tied three cats 
together by their tails and were whirling them around: a tangle of 
claws, hisses and miaows. She shivered as the carriage passed on. 
Then it slowed down and she found herself looking at a fat man on 
a sedan chair, lofted above the hubbub of the street by four servants. 
His big head was thrust out of the cabin and he shouted a series 
of insults toward another sedan chair coming from the opposite 
direction. Suddenly the man stopped yelling, noticed the girl, and 

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stared at her with disapproval. She pulled her own head back inside 
the carriage. 

Her father and the Earl were still talking. 

“Do you think it will happen soon?” Joseph Brant broke in. 

“Certainly. The presence of His Highness Joseph Brant is 
causing the right kind of sensation. After all, you are the prince 
of Canajoharie. They can’t leave you waiting too long in the 

The Indian looked at the walking stick that he held between his 
knees, and shook his head. 

“I am a warrior chief. It is a title earned on the field. My origins 
are not noble, Tord Warwick.” 

“They’re like everyone else’s,” said the Earl. “It isn’t God who 
assigns aristocratic titles, but force.” He rearranged an untidy hair in 
his wig. “If you look carefully, the origins of the English nobility lie 
in rape and pillage.” 

Esther felt her father stirring on his seat. Her nausea was passing, 
but she had to let her head rest on the back of the seat and take 
a deep breath. She understood little of what the grown-ups were 
saying, but she could tell their state of mind. The earl spoke in a 
bored tone, as if everything were obvious. 

“A long time ago a horde of hairy Frenchmen crossed the 
Channel, conquered these lands and exerted the right of the victors 
on the women of the island. Then they shared out the noble titles 
that we still bear today.” Warwick gave an affected wave of the hand. 
“And here we are. Bastards, preoccupied with the idea of cultivating 
good manners so that our origins may be forgotten. 

“The English lords lead the armies into battle,” Joseph Brant cut 
in. “Courage and valor are the true source of nobility.” 

“Courage and valor? Qualities appreciated by a people like 
your own, who still take the ancient virtues into account,” said the 
earl with another vague gesture of his hand. “But look out there. 
I wouldn’t survive a day in those streets, let alone a night. These 
people spend their whole lives there. Talk about courage. Thieves, 
villains and merchants surviving everywhere, on everything. Tike 
rats.” Esther’s head was spinning. Images and words, sounding vague 
and muffled, Warwick’s face seemed distorted, Joseph Brant’s had 
animal features. “It’s a kind of insatiable hunger, which devours 
anything in its path. Do you think that courage and valor will 

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change the course of events ? Those are concepts for the allegories of 
our painters, whom we ask to depict us in armor and dress uniforms. 
A pathetic attempt to banish the thought that soon these people 
will be gnawing on our bones.” 

Her father spoke from a long way away: “And yet, milord, you 
can’t deny that the aristocracy cultivates a certain form of excellence.” 
“I have, in fact, thought long and hard about what it means to 
be an aristocrat.” Esther saw the earl draw a little metal flask from 
under his jacket, uncork it and offer it to the others. “A cordial?” 
The two men refused, but Warwick took a copious swig before 
starting to talk again in the same tone. 

“I have reached the conclusion that it means having someone 
willing to take the blows on our behalf. To prove this theory, the 
other day I farted loudly in the drawing room, in the presence of 
three of my servants. And not only did they pretend not to hear it, 
but when I vehemently accused one of them, he didn’t bat an eyelid 
and endured the scolding with an air of the most utter contrition. 
So, being an aristocrat means acting with total impunity, despite 
all the evidence.” The earl raised his flask again. “Long live King 
George.” He took a second sip. 

“Long live the king,” the other two echoed unenthusiastically. 

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13 . 

The coaches slowed down, the horses drew abreast. The entrance to 
Vauxhall Gardens was full of life. Ionic columns rose up, supporting 
a kind of pergola. Philip noticed with surprise that the view spread 
far beyond the gate, although guided by the hedges and contained 
by rows of trees arranged by species. In some places the countryside 
opened up and the horizon was visible. Here, the ashen bulk of the 
city was a wrestler loosening his grip. Philip tried to fill his lungs, but 
the air still smelled of smoke and coal, of human and animal waste. 
Peter got out of the carriage and straightened his j acket with his hands. 

Entrance was one shilling. 

Esther walked ahead of her father. She answered his smiles with a 
smile, she introduced herself in the proper manner when Warwick 
decided it was time to stop, but she was concentrating upon the 
physical pain of the corset. And yet all the ladies seemed to adapt to 
it. Some had waists so tightly confined that two hands could have 
encircled them, thumbs and index fingers meeting in the middle, yet 
they seemed perfectly at ease under the white lead, the rouge, the 
patches, the complex coiffures. 

Esther wanted to block her ears; she found the conversation boring 
and pointless. So were the people to whom she was introduced. She 
thought it was a real shame that the intimacy between herself and 
Peter had not increased in the course of the voyage. His status as a 
hero and the company of the adults had taken him away for good. 

In the middle of the crowd, in Vauxhall Gardens, Esther Johnson 
thought once again about her mother. 

The absence was deeper than the ocean they had crossed. 

Her father stopped: more introductions, more chatter. She 
deciphered a handful ofwords. “Canada,” “damned Whigs,” “leading 
the Indians”. . . The music of an orchestra came to them from the 
platform in the middle of the gardens. 

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22 3 

Everyone seemed to have forgotten about her. Esther lingered 
behind. No one noticed. 

The Great Devil was tired of the crowd. He glanced at Peter, 
absorbed in his contemplation of the musicians. He decided to 
move away from the group. Vauxhall seemed big enough to allow 
him some solitude. 

One step after the other, Philip came in sight of the Rotunda, a 
massive circular building. 

The interior was lit by chandeliers and mirrors. There were only 
a few people in it, all busy studying the frescoes that decorated the 
walls. The music sounded far away. 

Ships. Most of the paintings were of ships. The English were 
well aware that they were great navigators. The scenes were the 
uninterrupted story of a vocation. He was struck by one in particular: 
the painter had captured the scene admirably, and the attention to 
detail rendered the individual characters highly lifelike. The subject 
was a surrender. A ship had been boarded, and the surviving crew were 
assembled on one side of the deck. On the other side were the victors, 
guns leveled. The faces of the defeated men revealed uncertainty and 
terror. Their lives were in the hands of an enemy drunk on victory. 

The man of the forests observed each detail of the painting. 

The scene was part of his own experience. He had found himself 
in both situations: prisoner and hunter of men. 

He walked away from the painting. 

Next to a statue, a familiar figure. 

Esther emerged from the shadows. 

Philip looked at her without a word. He was aware of the 
shortness of her breath, the unease that the girl was feeling in the 
finery they had imposed on her. He had a vision of a younger version 
of himself, dressed up for religious functions. 

He didn’t know how to break the silence, but something forced 
him to do so. 

“Miss Johnson. Whyever aren’t you with the others?” 

His words sounded forced. Philip heard them echoing as if they 
came from a long way off. 

“I got bored. They won’t leave me alone for a moment.” 

Though Esther’s voice was clear, it betrayed a certain 

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22 4 


Philip couldn’t remember solitude having value for him at that 

The silence thickened again. He decided that it was his duty to 
disperse it again. “Have you seen the frescoes already?” 

Behind her mask of white lead Esther tried to smile. “Ships. Just 
ships. As if we hadn’t seen enough of those already.” 

Philip nodded. Esther suddenly changed her expression and took 
a few steps toward the Indian. In a low voice she went on, “Aren’t 
you tired, Mr. Lacroix, of putting on these clothes ? Don’t you think 
these people are all as stiff as puppets?” 

The girl had uttered the words in haste, without drawing breath. 
Philip looked into her eyes. “Not just the clothes. It’s the soul.” 
Esther looked startled, as if this were the first time an adult agreed 
with her. “When will we be going home, Mr. Lacroix ?” 

“I don’t know,” Philip replied. “Right now, let’s get out of here.” 
Outside, the notes of the band barely touched them. 

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14 . 

Night. Fog. The countryside around Vauxhall: turnips on the 
left, onions on the right. Five ghosts were walking in a line along 
a ditch. The man in front was taking snuff to dry his brain of 
vapors. The second struggled to keep his torch alight and cursed 
into the wind: his curses acted as a lampshade. The third held an 
iron bar. The fourth and fifth were yoked together by a wooden 

A patch of light drowned in the moist air. The ghosts seemed to 
be trying to reach it, but the icy mud slowed down their steps: hard 
as stone, a series of holes and crevasses. The rotten twigs scattered 
on the ground were steel knives and traps. Everything was stiff and 
pointed. Even the fog. 

Once they had reached a tall fence, the march came to a halt. The 
light from the torches danced on their faces. A scar, a red nose, a 
missing incisor. Beyond the posts planted in the ground, they heard 
shrill laughter that didn’t sound human. 

“Shiiiit, Dave. You’re the spit of that jasper up there!” 

The ogre’s admiration was sincere. With one eye he studied his 
mate’s Indian mask; with the other, the image of a savage on an 
old almanac. The Emperor struggled to frame his face in a shard of 
mirror on top of a box. 

“ Bastard spit,” the fair-haired man stressed. He approached the 
ogre and pointed to the portrait of the feathered native. “These are 
eagle, not chicken.” 

“Chicken your mother.” The Emperor spun around: if they had 
called his mother a whore he wouldn’t have taken it so much to 
heart. “It’s called a turkey-cock. An American peacock.” 

“Turkey? What the fuck has Turkey got to do with it?” 

“America, India, Turkey. All the same shit,” the thinnest of them 
observed with disgust. 

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The Emperor struck his hand on his forehead, just below the 
turkey feathers. “This is a Turkish crescent, take a look, and you 
know who did it to me ?” 

“Yes, Dave,” the ogre nodded politely. 

“This shit is important,” declared the Emperor. “I tell you, bullshit 
is the soul of trade. Bullshit makes a jasper important.” 

“Exactly.” The fair-haired man was the only one who could afford 
to be so insistent. “If you had a good old rummage, you’d find eagle 
tuffs in some hole or other. But no, you’ve gone off scrounging in 
the shitheaps of Vauxhall to scrape two hens together. All right, 
American hens, but so much the worse. Maybe having those tuffs 
on you means something to a savage. It could mean ‘I’m a twat,’ and 
you, to act American, are going to the prince of the Mohawks with 
‘I’m a twat’ printed on your canister.” 

“I could give one cold dead fuck about the Indian prince.” 

“A fuck? But you scribed him a brown-tongued papyrus!” 

“God in a shit-bucket, Neil, what have you been studying ? The 
letter isn’t for the prince, it’s for the Courant .” 

“Not for the prince?” the disfigured man said, astonished. 

“No, fucking halfwits. Giving it to the prince is the purest 
humbug, it’s a way to get the marks gandering. The marks gander, 
they tattle, they take an interest. The scribers tattle, they print, they 
fill their pockets. The rafters shit themselves, the whores get fucked, 
everyone gets to work. The Emperor and his cronies shovel the 
shekels like there’s no tomorrow.” 

Excited shouts greeted the chief’s tirade. Even the fair-haired 
man seemed to set aside his doubts as he joined the chorus. The 
Emperor took out his toothpick and jabbed his gum. 

“Go get ready,” he commanded. “You’re about to become the 
biggest savages in the whole of Tondon.” 

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A yelling crowd lined the wide pavements of Pall Mall: rows on 
rows of wigs, hats and towering coiffures. Holding them back, like 
a long scarlet darning stitch, the red-sleeved arms and rifles of the 
Guards, reinforced here and there by the hoofs of the Household 
Cavalry. Two wings of people stretched for another half mile, from 
the northern gate of the Palace to Haymarket crossing. 

Someone well-informed swore that the Indians would not 
appear, that the news, which had spread through all circles and been 
amplified by the gazettes, was without basis. Nonetheless, he used 
his own elbows to get the best possible view. 

Others maintained that a brother, a cousin, a friend had already 
enjoyed the privilege of observing the savages from close at hand, 
and guaranteed that there was nothing to see, that the two men 
looked like any Islington squires in their Sunday best. Yet they, too, 
waited for hours to check this fact in person. 

Someone laughed at them all, poor fools, waiting in the wrong 
place, when it was clear that the Canadian princes would be 
coming from St. James’s Park. He tried to convince at least a pair 
of strangers to follow him: they had to trust him, it had to be 
that way. Nonetheless, he wouldn’t hear of going on his own. If 
he was the poor fool, he wanted someone beside him to share his 

Suddenly a buzzing arose, first startled, then excited, then louder 
and louder, high-pitched and noisy, until the “aahs” and “ohs” 
shaped themselves into something comprehensible, an earthquake 
of shouts: “They’re coming,” “It’s them,” “There they are!” 

A most luxurious vehicle was proceeding from the end of Pall 
Mall. The soldiers could hardly contain the vast crowd of shouting 

Just then, behind a cluster of gentlewomen calling loudly for the 
prince of the Indians, other savages appeared. 

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“Let us through! We bring a letter for his highness,” cried their 
feathered leader, attempting to force his way through the crowd and 
reach the carriage. 

The ladies complied, because someone dressed in this way could 
really be a messenger of the prince, and slipping into his wake might 
be the quickest way to reach the front. 

“They must be people from their entourage, servants or lackeys,” 
someone said. 

Someone else shot back that one of the savages lived in his own 
district, two yards away from his house. 

“Give over! Can’t you see that he’s got red skin? Does this 
neighbor of yours have red skin?” 

Still others observed that at least two of the Indians appeared to 
be drunk. 

“Are you surprised? They drink all the time in India, everyone 
knows that. Worse than the Scots.” 

Meanwhile the savages took advantage of the confusion to get just 
behind the front row. They started pushing violently forward, so that 
the soldiers attributed the movement to the people in front of them. 
The guards rained blows on innocent heads. These unfortunates at first 
tried to justify themselves by pointing behind them, then they managed 
to step aside. Guards and savages found themselves face to face. 

Prince Thayendanegea, crowned with feathers, leaned out of the 
carriage to check what was happening. The messenger of the savages 
understood that this would be his only opportunity. He gestured 
to his men to lift him up, and with a thrust he launched himself 
beyond the soldiers, arm outstretched and the letter clutched in his 
hand. The prince instinctively grabbed it. 

“On behalf of the Indians of London!” shouted the messenger. 

The London Indian felt himself being grabbed by the guards and 
pulled down. Twisting like a snake, he freed himself from the shawl 
that he was wearing like a cloak. He escaped their clutches, took a 
leap, gripped the carriage and scrambled up its side as swiftly as a 
rat. Climbing into the box, under the startled eyes of the coachman, 
with his clothes in rags and his tousled tuft like a crest, he spread his 
arms and opened his mouth into a crazed sneer. 

“God save the king,” he yelled. “Mohock power!” 

With a ferocious cry he threw himself down in crucifix pose, 
landing in the outstretched arms of his companions. They, crushed 

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among the crowd, didn’t have room to lower him to the ground. 
They held him like the corpse of a martyr exposed to the crowd, 
and with blows of their hips, knees and feet they opened up a path 
toward salvation. Not wide enough to accommodate them all. 

An hour later, as the ambassadors of the American Mohawks 
entered St. James’s Palace to receive full red-carpet treatment, two 
London Indians entered Newgate with handcuffs around their 

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16 . 

The Earl of Warwick sat down at a desk of ebony and leather, next to 
the secretary of state, and studied the terrain. 

George III, Queen Charlotte and nine princes. Good sign. 
The presence of the sons suggested curiosity. Curiosity produced 
questions. Questions produced points. 

His Majesty appeared to be in a good mood. The ringlets on either side 
of his face were perfectly curled. George III didn’t wear wigs. According 
to rumor, for fear that warming his head might damage his brain. In 
deference to fashion, he had his own mane combed and powdered as if 
it were artificial. An operation that made him nervous, often so much so 
that he had to cut it short, with tragic results for his hairstyle. 

The queen, about to give birth, had chosen a pink dress, wide, 
with lots of lace. Her hair was curled on top of her head, without 
frills. Her gestures and posture said that an hour before, looking at 
herself in the mirror, Charlotte had not been disappointed. 

The appearance of the little princes was unimportant; it was even 
hard to tell them apart with any precision. And except for the four 
adolescents, the men and women all looked very much alike. 

At that moment the door of the study opened wide, the master of 
ceremonies entered, and the audience began. 

“Colonel Guy Johnson,” he announced, “Superintendent of the 
Department of Indian Affairs of the Northern Colonies.” 

The head of the delegation appeared in the doorway. He made 
his first bow right away, the second in the middle of the room, and 
the third at his destination, brushing with his lips His Majesty’s ring 
and the queen’s hand. 

Movements that were not precisely those of a dancer, a slight 
uncertainty on the final steps, but all in all a good try: the colonel’s 
sangfroid made up for his lack of experience. 

Behind him, not much more graceful, came the other four. Daniel 
Claus, the worst by far. Clumsy, awkward, German. Luckily for him. 

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2 3 i 

the royal family was from the same part of the world, and set no 
great store by elegance themselves. Of the two Indians, the more 
striking was Prince Thayendanegea, in his red silk cloak, headdress 
of eagle’s feathers, seashell belts, and necklace of bear claws. Philip 
Lacroix, much more sober in appearance, was in English garb. The 
boy, Peter Johnson, wore a suit cut by the best tailor in London. 

On the king’s face, no particular expression. 

The queen half opened her eyelids. 

The snotty-nosed youths remained composed. 

“Royal Highnesses,” said the colonel, “before introducing to Your 
Majesty’s presence the men whose honor it is to accompany me, 
allow me to correct the announcement just delivered by the master 
of ceremonies.” 

Warwick grimaced with disappointment. This wasn’t the speech 
they had rehearsed. The master of ceremonies was a touchy character. 
It was better to leave him be. 

“It is not my custom to ascribe to myself titles I do not deserve,” 
Johnson went on, “and I do not wish, for some trivial error, to 
pass for an impostor in Your Majesty’s eyes. The tasks of the 
superintendent of Indian Affairs were entrusted to me by my 
predecessor, Sir William Johnson, and by the chiefs of the Six 
Iroquois Nations, but my office has not yet been confirmed by 
royal seal. The only title that I can boast, then, is that of colonel in 
the New York Militia.” 

A risky game, thought Warwick. This was the same Johnson 
who had introduced himself to the master of ceremonies as the 
superintendent. He had provoked the mistake in order to correct it 
and slip the notion of the appointment into the king’s ear. 

Now the master of ceremonies might decide to take his revenge. 
He was the ear of London within the royal rooms. He could spread 
rumors, disseminate doubts about the score, even if the secretary of 
state’s transcripts were normally unequivocal. One point for every 
smile from the king, two for compliments, three for questions. Small 
talk was worth zero; irritable interruptions, minus two. A successful 
audience should come to at least eight points. Betting on the results 
was at least as attractive to high society as betting on horses. 

The king raised an eyebrow and gestured to him to continue. 
The queen fanned herself. 

One of the snotty boys was taken away to piss. 

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2 3 2 


Guy Johnson finished the speech, stepped aside and with a gesture 
of his arm introduced the American delegation to King George. 

It was the German’s turn. He took a step forward, as the 
superintendent announced him in a loud voice. Claus had the weary 
air and pallor typical of the masturbator. His eyes, nose and mouth 
looked as if they were trapped in a box too small for them. 

When he bowed to kiss the king’s ring, he looked as if he were 
assessing the value of the stone. He made a short and agreeable 
speech — very short, so as not to offend the royal ears with his 
awkward pronunciation. 

The queen snapped her fan shut and asked Claus which region of 
Germany his family came from. 

Miracles of the Teutonic accent and Her Majesty’s nostalgia 
for the stench of horses and sausages. Without even putting his 
brain into action, Daniel Claus had notched up a point and a half. 
Unfortunately, the queen’s reactions were worth half those of the 
king, who remained impassive, his toad-like eyes directed toward 
the center of the room. 

Warwick wove his fingers together under his chin. It was the 
turn of the champion, the showpiece, the man who could alter the 
character of the meeting and bring home the seven missing points. 

Johnson introduced him flatly, a very bad beginning. No “His 
Highness,” no “Prince.” Just “Chief Joseph Brant Thayendanegea,” 
and that was it. 

The Indian came forward, the Apollo of the New World, a flesh- 
and-blood emblem of manliness and serene strength. He inclined 
his chest toward the king, kissed the queen’s hand, and stepped 

Warwick couldn’t help covering his mouth with his hands. The 
prince, the American champion, had forgotten the king’s ring! A 
whole afternoon rehearsing the ceremony with the dancing master, 
and then a trivial mistake sent all their work to hell. 

Before giving in to his discomfiture, the earl studied the 
expression of George III, the expression on the face that represented 
the Empire. 

There were no signs of anger. Tips pursed, complexion clear, no 
red patches, hands resting in his lap. 

He looked at the secretary of state. He was recording the minutes 
with his habitual scruple. 

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2 33 

His ears were pricked for the prince’s speech. As if acting from a 
script, Brant had slipped one of his belts from his shoulder and held 
it up with both hands. The belt, he was explaining, represented the 
alliance between the Six Nations and the Crown of England. The 
Six Nations were ready to fight the enemies of their English Father, 
but before they did they wanted to be sure that the English Father 
was ready to fight the enemies of the Six Nations. Alliances, in fact, 
were either reciprocal or they were not. 

It was the emphasis on the adjective “reciprocal” that explained to 
Warwick what had just happened. He clearly remembered the prince 
being carefully informed about the significance of each act of reverence. 

The kissing of the ring was the tribute required of the king’s 
subjects. Foreign ministers merely bowed. Speaking of alliances and 
performing a gesture of submission would have been contradictory 
actions. The prince had avoided the dilemma. There was no given 
score for such an act of brilliance, but it didn’t matter. The whole of 
Tondon would be talking about it. 

Pursuing fantasies of glory, Warwick missed the queen’s question. 

The prince replied that his Indian name meant “Bind Two Sticks,” 
or “Place Two Bets.” 

At the word “bets,” Warwick’s eyes glided to King George. His 
Majesty had a weakness for the horses. His regal lips trembled 
slightly. Warwick preferred not to look. 

“ What would be your double bet, Chief Brant ?” 

Warwick kept his eyelids half closed. 

“I’m betting on the Six Nations, Your Majesty, and on the Crown 
of England.” 

From behind his eyelids, the count saw the king opening up into 
a smile that was the smile of millions of Englishmen. The British 
Empire was smiling at Prince Thayendanegea. 

Five and a half more points, seven in all. It was almost done. 
Another smile from the king, a compliment from the queen. 
Nothing impossible, but it would be counted a good achievement 
for the boy, whose turn it was to speak. Warwick prayed that he was 
a match for his uncle. 

“Peter Warren Johnson, the natural son of the late Sir William 
Johnson of Johnson Hall.” 

The boy took a step forward, quite confidently. He performed 
his bows and kisses, not forgetting His Majesty’s ring. With a slow 

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2 34 

and deliberate gesture he unsheathed a sword and laid it at he feet 
of King George. The sword was Ethan Allens. The boy explained 
that the head of the rebels had handed it to him in person, and now 
he was giving it to His Majesty, as a tangible and auspicious sign of 
glory for the alliance, etcetera, etcetera. 

There was a buzz from the snotty boys, and then the oldest of 
them approached his mother and whispered something in her ear. 
The queen cleared her throat. 

“Prince George Augustus would like to know how the capture of 
this famous bandit came about.” 

Warwick was excited: a question from the mouth of the queen. A 
point and a half. Paradise! 

The boy delivered a winning account. Neither too long nor too 
succinct. King George nodded smugly. Once the story was over, he 
went on rocking his head back and forth, as if rocking a thought to 
sleep. Then he stopped, and parted his lips for the second time. 

He congratulated the boy, praised his courage, and for a few 
minutes lost himself in a monologue about that precious virtue. 
Warwick had trouble following his reasoning. The king spoke in a 
strange sing-song voice that always made him seem emotional, as if 
he were about to burst into tears. He made ungrammatical pauses 
between one word and another, leaving his sentences hanging 
between conjunctions. The common people said it was a way of 
masking a stammer, but the better informed maintained that there 
was something behind it. The king had nervous problems, he was 
hypersensitive, he really had to hold back his sobs. 

Tearful or no, the long digression ended in a question. 

“Tell me, Mr. Johnson, what feature is it that leads you to consider 
the alliance between the Crown of England and the Six Iroquois 
Nations so solid and invincible?” 

The boy was a revelation. As soon as possible he must find a way 
to reward him. Warwick had lost precise count of the points, at least 
ten. An audience like that would place him among His Majesty’s 
favorites, surpassing the results of big shots like Carmarthen and 

“I don’t know what to reply, Your Majesty,” the little star began. 
“No fish, in fact, could tell you why the sea is superior to dry land. It 
is his world and he can neither translate nor explain it. Thus for me 
is the alliance between England and the Six Nations. I am a subject 

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2 35 

of Your Majesty, as was my father, and I am a Mohawk of the Wolf 
clan, the clan of my mother and my uncle Joseph Brant.” 

King George smiled frankly, then got to his feet, a gesture never 
seen before. He picked up Ethan Allen’s sword and handed it back 
to Peter Johnson. 

“I don’t wish to do you wrong, Mr. Johnson, by returning a gift 
to you, but we would like you to keep the sword that you have 
conquered. Promise only that you will bring it back to us when you 
wear a general’s stripes on your chest.” 

Now it was Warwick who held back his tears. He must have a 
fever, for His Majesty’s words reached him as if from another planet. 
He followed the rest of the ceremony as though under hypnosis: the 
bows, the greetings, the thanks. He said his own good-byes with the 
bowing and scraping of a mechanical doll and slipped out of the 
door behind the others. 

The world of royal audiences would never be the same. 

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17 . 

The towers rose massively from the moat surrounding the walls. 
The central building, closed oft by fortified gateways, stood out 
against the leaden sky. Strength and elegance combined. Quebec 
Castle wasn’t much in comparison. He’d never seen anything like 
this except in illustrated books. Peter soaked up every detail with 
his eyes, he wanted to imprint it in his mind, to reconstruct that 
majestic building stone by stone when he was far away, to describe 
all its angles to himself, to see it again any time he wanted to. 

The Tower of London, where the enemies of the king, the traitors 
and conspirators, were imprisoned. Perhaps Ethan Allen himself 
was locked up in the castle dungeons. 

Father, if you could only see me, Peter thought. First in His 
Majesty’s presence. Now in a place I knew from the tales you told 
me when I was a child, the dwelling place of knights and sovereigns. 

He thought too of his mother, how proud of him she would 
be, knowing he was here in the carriage of an English aristocrat 
escorting him to see the Tower. 

The carriage ran along the perimeter of the fortress and Lord 
Warwick pointed out the details of the building to Peter. They 
reached the square beside it and admired the ensemble of red 
uniforms and standards. Peter had been the one who had expressed 
the desire to see the guardsmen on parade, and Warwick had happily 
agreed. It was a reward for his extraordinary performance in the 
presence of the king. 

The perfect geometry of the lineup, not a step taken out of 
place. The soldiers marched as if they were a single entity — a 
concrete reminder of the order that sustained the Empire. Peter 
smiled, thinking of the jumble of ragged men he had confronted 
in the Canadian forests. Compared to this wonderful solidity, the 
American Goliath seemed a dwarf. He observed the maneuvers 
from the carriage window and thought that those soldiers in their 

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2 37 

scarlet uniforms would not have let the rebels get away. All King 
George needed to do was send them across the ocean, and the 
rebellion would be over much sooner. 

As the detachments made their way back to barracks, the earl 
pointed out Tower Hill, the place where executions were performed. 
“Ax-man’s corner,” he called it, sniggering to himself, but his face 
suddenly darkened and he added a bitter remark about the fact that 
anyone at all could find themselves putting their heads on the block, 
even the king and queen. He touched wood emphatically and began 
to speak in a smooth tone, listing the names of famous people who 
had received the executioner’s services at that place. Peter couldn’t 
remember any of them, but a vision of heads rolling between his feet 
made him shiver. 

The carriage slowed to a stop and they both got out to walk 
along the river in front of the fortress. The wind flapped the earl’s 
neckerchief. Warwick arranged it under the lapel of his jacket and 
Peter thought that the resulting swelling of his chest made him look 
like a strutting cockerel. Even his gait was a bird’s: the count set his 
feet down carefully, studying the ground. He realized that the boy 
was looking at him and smiled, elegantly separating his syllables: “A 
horror of dung.” He asked his young friend’s forgiveness. He said 
that excrement was his obsession: stepping in something undesirable 
would make him first nervous, then sad. 

From close by, the walls and towers were even more imposing. 
Banners flew on the pinnacles. A gentle touch from the earl brought 
Peter’s glance back to earth. 

Not far off, behind a crowd of onlookers and a row of bars, a large 
animal lay sleeping. 

The royal menagerie included various beasts, but the lion of the 
Tower was the most famous. The earl said this as he opened a passage 
for himself and the boy with light taps of his stick. 

It was only a huge cat, thought Peter. Moth-eaten tuffs, stirred 
by the wind, stood out on its head. Its tongue hung from slightly 
opened jaws. Its stench was revolting. Had it not been for the slight 
movement of its tail, Peter would have thought it was dead. 

Warwick rotated the stick, tracing a circle in the air to indicate the 
animal’s dangling genitals. “Notice, please, the testicular diameter,” 
he said. He shook his head. “What a waste, don’t you think?” 

Peter remarked that the creature didn’t look terribly fierce. 

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The earl said that it had lived for so long in the Tower that it had 
forgotten its predatory instincts. He assumed a sad and embittered 
tone. “Here you have the emblem of England, the lion that roars 
from the coats of arms and the banners of the kingdom.” 

As if it had heard him, the animal raised its head and showed its 
jaws in a bestial yawn. People started backward with terrified shrieks. 
Peter too stepped back. Not so the earl, who instead leaned toward 
the bars, emitting an indolent answering cry not unlike a roar. The 
feline did not deign to notice. The earl, leaning on his walking stick, 
his head tilted on his shoulder, went on contemplating it. 

Peter asked under his breath what he was looking at. 

“A creature bored of living,” Warwick replied gloomily. He blew 
his nose loudly, then invited the boy to follow him away from there, 
being careful where he set his feet. 

They walked for some distance without exchanging a word. Then 
the earl checked his watch and with a sudden change of mood said 
that they had an appointment. 

He couldn’t stop looking at her. She was perfect. More perfect than 
the parade, more perfect than the castle. And yet she must have come 
from there, from the house of fairies and princesses. There must be 
a room, in the highest tower, where they guarded this enchanting 
creature. She was young. She smiled slightly, giving him a little stitch 
in his stomach. He stared at her, aware of his own rudeness. Eyes, 
mouth, curls, pale neck. Perfume. An essence that Peter couldn’t 
recognize. That smell did not exist in America. 

The earl was cheerful, speaking without haste and without pauses, 
a flow of words cradling Peter’s astonishment at the creature sitting 
with them in the carriage. 

“It’s easy to talk of heroes, my boy. And what, in the end, is 
heroism? The rays of a fine star that light up our personal virtue.” 
The earl took a pinch of snuff, accompanying it with a sip of spirits 
from his flask. “There are heroes in every war and there are also 
heroes on every street corner, lucky or despised by fate, rich and 
happy or married to a bottle of gin. But a man, ah, a man. Find me 
one in this Gomorrah of seduction and robbery, of pederasty and 
decadence, gnawed by rats like the carcass of some old beast. A man 
is a rare thing these days; you have to look for him with a lantern, 
like that man Diogenes.” 

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2 39 

Peter struggled to follow his argument, lost as he was in the 
girl’s eyes. The earl didn’t care; he was listening to his own words, 
absorbed in himself. 

“You, my boy, come from a young, strong world. Red blood flows 
in your veins, not that bluish mixture that clogs our own. I have the 
honor — no, no, don’t shy away. . . I have the honor of having been 
your mentor and guide on this festive day. Ah, the new man, who 
has not understood his own manly virtue. Warrior, soldier of the 
king, at once lusty and chaste. What your perfection still lacks allow 
me to add as a gift, or, if you prefer, a souvenir of myself. A personal 
touch, because where there is one for the Earl of Warwick, all the 
more reason there should be one for a truly noble man.” 

Peter didn’t understand. He saw the earl knocking with his stick 
on the carriage roof. The coachman stopped the horses. 

“This is my stop,” announced Tord Warwick. He kissed the 
girl’s hand, leaving her with his guest, bowed to Peter and with one 
sinuous movement stepped out onto the footboard. Before he got 
out, he scanned the ground beneath him. 

Before Peter had time to realize what was going on, the carriage 
had already set oft. He found himself alone and silent, in the cabin, 
with the girl. He felt he should say something, but his mind was 
empty and he couldn’t take his eyes away from hers. 

Then the fairy touched his hand and delicately brought it to her 

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18 . 

The picked carcasses of a pheasant and ten partridges lay on a silver 
tray, in the middle of the round table. There was something sinister 
about the leftovers as a whole: the orderly arrangement of the bones 
on the plate suggested lucid brutality. The head of the biggest bird 
looked toward the southeast, as if regretting a truncated migration 
to a better fate. The other skeletons inertly awaited inhumation 
between the jaws of the cats to the rear of the club. 

The waiter lifted the tray and removed the macabre remains of 
the dinner from the sight of the guests. Then he returned from the 
kitchens with a bottle of port, which the guests refused to have served 
to them, dismissing the man with an impatient gesture. They began 
filling the goblets on their own, giving themselves generous helpings. 

“You were saying, Mr Whitebread,” said the gentleman seated 
to the north, “that the prince of the savages refused to kiss His 
Majesty’s ring.” 

A young-looking man in a black wig cleared his throat. 

“It would be more precise to say, sir, that he did not do so. He 
merely kissed the queen’s hand.” 

“And your pen will immortalize the moment in tomorrow’s 
Courant, I imagine,” the other man shot back. 

“Not so much for posterity,” broke in the man seated to the west, 
“as to feed London’s gossips.” 

They all laughed, including Whitebread, who had to force 
himself to join in. He was never entirely at ease among the big shots 
of the City. 

“Tell us about the speech,” urged the man to the east. 

“Is it true that he threatened the king?” asked the gentleman in 
the southwest. 

Whitebread shook his head. 

“Not really. He said that loyalty must be reciprocal among allies.” 
He glanced at the other faces around the table, trying to catch their 

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reactions. “And that the Indian tribes will fight alongside England 
only if the king guarantees respect for their borders.” 

The northern gentleman filled his glass again and passed the 

“And what do you have to say about the brawls, Mr Whitebread ?” 
His tone was insinuating. “We have the impression that since these 
Mohawks have been in the city, the climate has become easily 
heated, and the scum is rising from the depths.” 

The journalist nodded. 

“A truly singular episode. It would seem that among the crowd 
there were agitators dressed as Indians.” He paused, unsure whether 
to go on, but all eyes were upon him and he couldn’t retreat. “A letter 
has reached the office of our newspaper. The sender maintains that 
he handed an identical one to the Indian emissaries on the day of the 
audience. He signed ours ‘Emperor of the Mohocks of Tondon.’ ” 

Again everyone sniggered. Except the gentleman to the north, 
the one who seemed to enjoy the greatest esteem among the others. 

“Mohocks of Tondon? City Indians?” the eastern gentleman 
exploded in disbelief. 

“Ridiculous,” muttered North. 

“Shameless,” added West. 

“Wretched,” put in Southeast. 

“Sordid,” concluded Southwest. Then, replacing in his pocket 
a little silver stick, with which he had been cleaning his molars, 
he added: “Small wonder that the savages are showing solidarity 
toward one another. The stench of Soho and the forest scalpers, I 
mean. What distinguishes them, in the end?” 

“Their dialect,” the gentleman to the north observed distractedly, 
and took a pinch of snuff. 

They laughed. 

Whitebread raised his voice a notch to be sure of being heard. 

“In the letter, the Indians of Tondon ask to be recognized as the 
seventh Iroquois Nation.” 

A sudden noise stopped the laughter in their throats. The 
gentleman to the north had broken the stem of his glass with the 
pressure of his fingers. 

Everyone turned around apprehensively, while North stared 
absently at the little cut on his thumb. He let a drop of blood trickle 
to the base of his finger, as if betting with himself on how long it 

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2 4 2 


would take. “You are right to sell, Mr. Cavendish. Dregs are dregs, 
whether they assemble in the stinking taverns of the East End, on the 
quays of Boston, or in the forests of Canada.” He showed his open 
palm, where the drop had settled, making a little red stain. “And 
when the dregs come together, the Empire bleeds. You remember 
that man Spartacus,” he added and stared at Whitebread, who was 
struck by a sensation of unease and harshness, as if his chair had 
turned to marble. 

The eyes of Mr. North had turned to slits, barely letting out a blue 
gleam. The other gentlemen hung on his words, waited to catch his 
thoughts, perhaps even anticipate them. 

“Given that they are unaware of this at court,” he said, turning 
back toward the journalist, “perhaps someone could point it out to 
the public. Maybe our own Panifex .” 

“Certainly, Mr. Whitebread,” East broke in. “You yourself should 
publish the letter from this Emperor of the city Indians. That way 
the people would understand the gravity of what is happening.” 
“Are you joking, Mr Pole?” exploded Whitebread, more and 
more uncomfortable in his seat. “Give space in our newspaper to 
the ravings of a lunatic ?” 

“Tell me, Mr. Whitebread, who is more of a lunatic ?” Again it was 
North who spoke, his calm voice sounding sinister, even menacing 
to the journalist’s ears. “The man who claims an Indian nation in the 
heart of Tondon, or the man who is willing to gamble the Empire 
just to deny freedom of trade to the colonies?” 

They were all silent again, turned toward North. That gentleman 
wiped his wounded hand on the tablecloth. 

“The government invites these Indians,” he went on, “and here 
they are, the darlings of the crowd and the street gangs, who are now 
demanding recognition for themselves. We even have a self-styled 
emperor raising his crest to challenge the legitimate authority of the 
Crown, as happens in America. Perhaps he, too, wants to be given 
the red-carpet treatment at St. James’s. Or a seat in Parliament.” 

The men around the table laughed smugly. 

“Bad choices have to be paid for,” North insisted. “With political 
ruin by those in charge. In thousands of pounds by those like 
ourselves, gentlemen, who produce the wealth of nations.” 

“Well said.” 

“Wise words.” 

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2 43 

Whitebread could not meet the eyes of North, but in reality the 
stuffed buzzard’s stare was fixed on the agitated men seated behind 
him. The journalist turned to follow the line of the pointed beak, 
saw the eager gaze of glassy eyes. 

“Brawls, fights, a few local gang leaders who know how to read 
and write,” North said with apparent nonchalance. “That’s how it 
started in Massachusetts.” 

“Yes, Mr. Whitebread, write this in the Courant ,” broke in 
Southwest, unable to restrain his enthusiasm. “Write that these 
damned Indians are bringing nothing but trouble to the city of 
London. And if we aren’t careful, we’ll find the rebellion in the 
colonies happening on our doorstep.” 

As everyone nodded, “Panifex,” real name Richard Whitebread, 
managed a polite smile, without finding anything to reply. 

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19 . 

From the Daily Courant of 2 March 1776: 


On the 29th of last month, at ten o’clock in the morning. Their 
Majesties King George III and Queen Charlotte received in St. 
James’s Palace Colonel Guy Johnson, of the Indian Department of 
the American Colonies; the chief of the Mohawk Nation, Prince 
Joseph Brant Thayendanegea; and Brant’s personal secretary, Mr. 
Philippe Lacroix. 

The entrance at court of the American delegation was followed 
by a great crowd of Londoners, with the consequences that are 
usually apparent when too many people assemble in a single place : 
thefts, broken bones, injuries, and outrages. To this should be 
added the confusion generated by a gang of mountebanks dressed 
as Indians who were unwilling to abandon the insalubrious 
project of approaching the prince of the Mohawks even when 
confronted by the Household Guard. Two of these men, taken 
into custody, are now resident at Newgate, waiting for judges and 
witnesses to resolve two important questions. The first, whether 
these fake Indians are the same ones who the other night removed 
the scalp of a certain James HOTBURN, known as Dread Jack, 
at One-Eye’s Tavern on Tottenham Court Road, and indeed 
the same who some days previously attacked the carriage of a 
gentleman in Mayfair, as described by the victim in person in a 
letter to our newspaper. The second, what was the motive for such 
obstinacy in attempting to reach the Mohawk princes; was it was 
an act of madness or a deliberate design? Upon the answers to 
these questions will depend the fate of the two malfaisants, id est. 

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2 45 

the asylum of St. Mary of Bethlehem or, as we would wish, the 
gallows at Tyburn. 

Permit us to skip over the details of the reception at court, 
details which even the stones now know by memory, and to reveal 
that, apart from those directly involved, we alone, in the whole of 
London, have an answer to both questions. This answer is the letter 
that we reproduce below, the same that the Indians of London 
are thought to have handed to Prince Thayendanegea. A stranger 
delivered a copy of it to our newspaper office a few hours after the 
fateful encounter. 

We have asked ourselves for a long time about the advisability 
of attributing these pages to the ramblings of a madman, and 
humoring his perversion by printing them. We replied to ourselves 
that beneath their guise of insanity, these lines conceal a lucid 
design, and although disseminating them may well play into the 
hands of whoever delivered them to us, keeping them hidden would 
be more serious still, because it would deprive our fellow citizens of 
the only resource they have in the face of such outrages: awareness 
and vigilance, knowing the day and the hour of the thief’s next visit. 

To the Prince of the Mohocks 
His Highness Joseph Brandt Teyandegea 


We write this letter in the awareness that the Colonial 
Office — and their beloved Guards — will not easily permit us to 
speak with you in a frank and calm encounter, preferring to bore 
you with pointless Receptions, Theatrical Spectacles, and Sword 

Your Visit to the Cities of London and Westminster is for us 
grounds for inexpressible Pride and great Hopes. Pride, for the 
honors paid by the Capital of Empire to a Prince of Indian blood; 
Hope, for the opportunity that God has granted the Mohocks 
of the colonies and those of the Old World an opportunity to 
embrace one another and give birth to a single powerful nation. 

For the sake of clarity let us say straightaway that we Mohocks 
of London — with the exception of him who writes to You — 
have not a drop of Indian blood in our veins, but we feel similar 
to you in every way. The so-called honest men, in fact, see us 

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as savages and like to attribute to us the most cruel misdeeds, 
before remembering us when they need cannon-fodder for their 
armies. For a while we too were a proud and courageous people, 
dedicated to hunting and agriculture, desirous to live in peace, 
but the honest men stole our land, and with it forests, trees, 
animals and waters, forcing our grandfathers to live in unhealthy 
districts and become servants, soldiers, beggars or thieves. A fate 
that the English in America would also like to reserve for your 
people, as we should like to point out. The Mohocks of London, 
weighed down for centuries by deprivation and abuse, never had 
the opportunity to establish a pact with a sovereign. But they 
do have one advantage over their American brothers, which is 
that they live in the heart of Empire, a few streets away from 
the house of His Majesty, and that they can raise a loud voice 
of their own. Imagine the Indians of the Colonies and those of 
the Motherland joining forces to form a single great nation. The 
Mohocks of London would then be received as ambassadors 
by the king, an honor that would never be granted otherwise; 
conversely, the American Mohocks would have someone to 
introduce them in the Capital of Empire without having to cross 
the Ocean and return. 

That is why we consider this union to be of great advantage 
to everyone, and we make a formal request, brother, to become 
part of your Confederation, as the Seventh Iroquois Nation. If 
a pact of this kind should prove impossible, we are even willing 
to perform an act of submission to your authority, asking the 
Six Nations to regard us as subjects, or to adopt us in the Indian 
manner, or in extremis to take us prisoner. All just to be Mohocks, 
as is our due. 

So if you wish to do us the honor of accepting our invitation, 
we ask you, brother, to add these conditions to the pact of alliance 
that you make with His Majesty: 

First, that the Indians of London and Westminster shall not 
serve in His Majesty’s Army, but only obey the supreme chief of 
the Six Nations, Joseph Brandt Teyandegea, and the Emperor 
Taw Waw Eben Zan Kaladar II. 

Second, that the Indian lands of the cities of London and 
Westminster, including the Borough of Southwark, shall be 
considered the Eastern Gate of the Longhouse, subject to the 

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exclusive authority of the aforenamed Joseph Brandt Teyandegea 
and the Emperor of the London Mohocks. His Majesty’s guards, 
soldiers, and militias shall have access to these lands only with 
formal authorization. 

Third and last, that outside the aforenamed lands the Indians 
of London and Westminster shall be granted hunting rights, 
from sunset to sunrise, on the left bank of the Thames, in the 
reserves between Hyde Park and Tower Hill. 

Trusting in your devotion to the common cause of the Indians 
of the Colonies and the Motherland, we are, BROTHER, 

Your subjects and humble servants. 

Taw Waw Eben Kaladar II 
Emperor of the Mohocks of London and Westminster 

We do not think there is much to add about the identity of the 
authors of this letter. They are clearly the notorious Mohocks of 
Soho, already rechristened as SOHOCKS by the people of London. 
The title of Emperor, in fact, besides being entirely incongruous 
to an Indian nation, is the same that appears in the statement of 
the Mayfair gentleman and of the keeper of One-Eyes Tavern. 
For that reason alone the two men arrested the other day should 
remain in the Royal Inn of Newgate, waiting for their just sentence. 
In addition, a letter written by these people in itself constitutes a 
serious crime, because, by the rhetorical device of analogy, drawn 
between the Indians of America and the Lower Classes of England, 
they are clearly inciting a vast number of subjects to join in their 

We are sure that Prince Thayendanegea is disinclined to view 
with sympathy the ravings of these Sohocks, but we cannot help 
noting that his presence has unleashed in the worst dregs of the city 
a dangerous desire for revenge. 

The Six Nations are certainly a precious ally of His Majesty. Their 
military bravery is beyond dispute: one need only read the accounts 
of those Frenchmen who had the misfortune of fighting les Iroquois. 
Nonetheless, receiving them at court with great pomp, presenting 
them as the pointer of a most delicate set of scales, and dedicating to 
them Spectacles and Festivities means that many others will imagine 
they deserve similar attention. “What?” a butcher’s boy suddenly 

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thinks to himself. “Perhaps King George considers the savages more 
important than his own subjects ? Perhaps my rifle cannot serve the 
cause of England better than the arrows of the primitives ? And why 
am I not received at St. James’s Palace, where I would never venture 
to humiliate His Majesty by denying him his proper reverence?” 
These are the words that we may hear in the streets of St. Giles and 
Whitechapel, in Soho and in the Garden. However distorted and 
unreasonable they might be, they place us on our guard. Might it 
not be the case that in order to thank an ally, important as he may 
be, the ministries of the Crown risk spoiling the alliance between 
the king and his people? 

This is a risk that should be assessed with the greatest care. 


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20 . 

Joseph swiftly held out the newspaper, as if he feared being spied by 

“Look at this.” 

Philip observed his companion. He looked alarmed. He took the 
paper and began to read. Joseph gazed over the parapet. The dome of 
St. Paul’s rose over the roofs of the City. It was the biggest building 
he had ever seen. His eyes kept straying toward it, and its solemnity 
was confirmed for him each time he glanced in its direction. 

The little boat went up the Thames amid traffic not unlike the 
traffic in the streets. Joseph and Philip had accepted the advice of a 
waiter in the Swan, who told them it was the only peaceful way to 
tour London. It hadn’t been hard to work out that the owner and 
pilot of the boat was a relative of the waiter’s, but in spite of the reek 
that rose from the river, the water tour had proved a good venture. 

The water splashed over the sides of the craft. Distant echoes 
came from the banks. 

Finally Philip broke the silence. “These people think you’re a king.” 

“The same thing happened to Hendrick.” 

Philip waved his hand. “It isn’t just that. There are people here 
who would like to submit to you, to the Six Nations.” 

“They’re just madmen.” 

“You know what our people think: often the Master of Life 
speaks through the voice of the mad. What we have seen of this city 
is what they have shown us.” 

The words rang out in the air. Philip returned his attention to 
the Daily Courant. Gulls settled on the boat, uttering long squawks. 

Philip watched the river flowing placidly and the boats moored 
to the jetties rocking in the current. 

Joseph felt the weariness of the past few days. It had been a series 
of receptions, visits, interviews. His voice was rough when he spoke 

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“I accepted this role to open a door to the king. I have won 
his respect, his commitment to defending us. The rest is of no 

Philip began stuffing his pipe in silence. 

“When we get back it will be time to choose,” Joseph went on. 
“The Tonghouse will have to decide which flag to fly. Someone 
will have to convince the warriors. Could Tittle Abraham do it? 
Shononses? Some other sachem?” 

“No,” replied Philip. 

“I am Joseph Brant Thayendanegea of the Wolf clan, a relative of 
Sir William Johnson, interpreter to the Indian Department, friend 
of the king of England and darling of the people of Tondon. Is there 
anyone in the Tonghouse who can boast a more valid title to speak?” 
He shook his head. 

He waited for Philips reply, which didn’t come. 

The boat slipped slowly along in the afternoon light. The rays of 
the sun struck the water, blinding anyone who looked westward. 

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21 . 

The scrape of rimmed wheels on cobblestones and granite slabs, 
the din of axles jolting over holes and drains. Horseshoes on paving 
stones. Shouts of coachmen, cries of vendors, wails of children. Out- 
of-tune violins, drunken songs. Litanies of beggars, endless strings 
of lamentation, the shaking of boxes and tins, the rattle of dice and 
change. The air here was an insult to the nose, carrying sounds that 
were an assault on the ears, and the eyes were equally embattled. 
Bodies of wretched ugliness, dressed in rags, heads and bodies 
shaking from side to side, regularly as pendulums, a device more 
to keep themselves warm than to move others to pity. Chattering 
teeth, curses, a fight over a bottle. Emaciated huddles, alms given 
more out of fear than compassion. People wandered about like 
phantoms, seemingly at random. Distracted hands threw scraps 
of food from windows. Musical mendicants, grouped in pathetic 
little bands, strummed and wailed, attempted to dance. The luckiest 
among them defended meager dominions, as if some authority 
had granted them a street corner, a personal piece of pavement. 
Whatever the condition fate had assigned to them, the men and 
women here were all the same ashen color, as if the milky sky that 
hung over their heads had also taken possession of their flesh. All of 
them, beggars and coachmen, servants and masters, seemed to be 
absorbed in an occupation of vital importance. And they were: they 
were all engaged in prolonging their lives — eating enough not to die 
of hunger, drinking enough not to think, wearing enough rags not 
to die of cold. 

Philip walked along Drury Lane, northward to where the city 
ended. Every now and again phrases from the letter written by the 
chief of the London “Indians” came into his mind. 

So-called honest men, in fact, see us as savages and like to attribute 
to us the most cruel misdeeds, before remembering us when they need 
cannon-fodder. . . 

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2 5 2 


The road swarmed with all kinds of people. The capital’s belly 
opened up and out they came, filthy and yelling. The air was full of 
coal dust, thick with the smell of human and animal feces. He had 
walked the first hundred yards with a white handkerchief over his 
nose; after a short time, though, he had abandoned this protective 
veil, to avoid being too conspicuous. The last thing he wanted was 
to attract attention: eyes were already lingering on a stranger who 
hid half his face, whose skin was copper-colored from the sun. And 
besides, walking without stepping in horseshit was already quite a 
task. No point making it more difficult. 

For a while we too were a proud and courageous people. . . but 
the honest men stole our land, and with it forests, trees, animals and 
waters, forcing our grandfathers to live in unhealthy districts and 
become servants. . . a fate that the English in America would also like 
to reserve for your people. . . 

To reach the end of the metropolis, then the countryside, the 
same countryside he had glimpsed in Vauxhall. To fill his lungs with 
good air, giving new courage to a body put to the test not only by 
the smoke and stench, but also by food and drink of Tondon. 

Drinking water meant absorbing the disgusting fluid that ran in 
the city’s underground elmwood tubes, exposed to all kinds of filth, 
maybe even the muck that rose from the Thames, sewage, water 
contaminated by all the foulness of Tondon and Westminster. Apart 
from human waste, diluted in that water were the acids, minerals 
and poisons from shops and factories. Not to mention the corpses 
of animals and men, or the discharges from bathtubs, kitchens and 
urinals. Philip, who hated drunkenness, had had to resort to small 
beer, the least harmful of the liquids that quenched the thirst of 
Tondoners. His body was beginning to swell and hurt. 

He needed to breathe, spend a day on his own in the fields around 
Tondon — set traps, perhaps, catch a bird, sleep under a tree. 

Where the road crossed High Holborn, some little boys 
surrounded him. Taking their hats oft and holding out their hands, 
in a dumb show of asking for alms. One of them drew out a little 
dagger, as it to persuade the stranger not to be stingy with his gifts 
to the poor. Philip showed them the big hunting knife that he kept 
hidden under his jacket. Cursing, the pack of little boys scattered. 
The one who seemed to be the chief, a snot-nosed boy with tousled 
red hair, gave him a look of loathing. The look of a mean animal. 

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2 53 

Watching the little boys swarm along Red Lyon Street, Philip 
saw in the face of the ringleader who he really was. His features 
presaged his doom, his eyes were without hope, his sole certainty 
was a pointless death, his life one of self- absorption, an inability to 
find comfort outside himself. Winter would not spare him. 

Further off, a desperately poor family carried a wooden chest 
nailed haphazardly together. The man, of indefinable age, was 
crying. The woman, skeletal and covered with a blackish shawl, 
wore a stunned expression. Supporting the burden, they advanced 
on uncertain footsteps. Behind them came a flock of half-naked 
children. A maimed dog tottered after them on three feet. As they 
passed, some pious souls raised their hats; others kicked the dog. 

It was a funeral procession. 

Philip hoped he would reach the countryside soon. The journey 
there was proving to be unbearable. A weight oppressed his chest: 
compassion and disgust. He had both heard and read over the years that 
this city had never ceased to accumulate, the urban deposit of Empire. 

A fate that the English in America would also like to reserve for your 
people. . . 

As he watched the progress of the sad procession, Philip had a 
vision: A London as big as the world. A single vast excrescence, 
made of low buildings and soaring towers, hovels, scenic boulevards, 
fountains and gardens, mazes of alleyways that the sun never reached. 
A man-made world, in perpetual motion, paved, cobbled, propped 
up; a world in continuous construction, stratified, violent, rotting; 
a world of artificial light and a great deal of darkness, salvation for 
the few and damnation for the majority: the noble cities of London 
and Westminster. 

He pissed his last pint against a brick wall and resumed his walk 
until the landscape of the suburbs made way for countryside. 

Philip reached the top of a hill and looked behind him. The 
first houses of London were now half a mile away. A leaden cloak 
weighed upon the city. The man looked around. There was a vague 
smell of spring in the air. 

He decided the moment had come to set off for the fields. 

“No, not here. There’s someone down there, under that tree.” 

The man had just set down a little wooden box and was running 
a filthy handkerchief over his forehead. 

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2 54 

“What do you think he cares, woman? Here is fine. Look at the 
children, they’re tired. They haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. 
And neither have I, for that matter.” 

The human puppies were sitting on the edge of the ditch, 
exhausted and shivering. Worn-out rags, tousled hair, huddling 
together to keep warm, a clump of thin flesh and bones. The woman 
was a portrait of miserable resignation. The man was a sad scarecrow. 
Patches of grayish skin appeared through erratically stitched patches 
of clothing, but he couldn’t do without an absurd and antiquated 

wi g- 

“You and your obsession with formalities,” he went on. “We all 
have to say goodbye to Billy together.’ Certainly, Madame. But I say 
it would have been better to leave the kids at home begging, so that 
at least tonight we could fill our bellies. Look at them, poor little 
bastards. They’ve had enough.” 

The woman burst into tears. “Let me see him for the last time.” 

The man assumed a penitent expression. He removed his tricorn 
from his head and opened the box. A dry, glassy little body, half- 
covered by a patched blouse and nothing else. Impossible to give it 
an age. It might have been four, five, six or seven, depending on how 
much food it had managed to consume before it collapsed. 

As the woman wept and the children wailed, the last member of 
the family procession reached the burial-ground, tottering on three 

“I don’t know what’s keeping me from roasting you,” said the 
man, delivering a kick to the dog. The creature whimpered without 
conviction. The man took a little spade from the belt around his 
waist. The woman’s weeping grew even louder. 

“God, God, why did you take my Billy from me?” 

“All right, let’s try and get a move on,” the man cut in. “I want to 
take the bastards over the Thames at low tide, to see if they can find 
something worth selling. Or as God is my judge, I’ll end up selling 

The woman went on crying. The man had dug half a hole and 
already he had run out of strength. One of the children pulled on 
his sleeve. Someone was coming. 

The stranger raised his right hand in a gesture of peace. By way of 
reply, the man brandished the spade, his eyes wild. 

“What do you want from us ? We don’t have anything!” he roared. 

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2 55 

“I’d like to finish the work that you have started, sir.” 

The newcomer pointed to the grave. 

An imperceptible movement, a disturbance of the air: the spade 
changed hands. The woman brought her right palm to her mouth 
and emitted a little cry. 

“I only want to help,” said the newcomer. 

The man, exhausted, collapsed onto his bottom. The woman 
started crying again. The stranger finished burying the box. Then he 
stood up again by the little grave. 

“Took, husband. He’s praying. . .” said the woman. 

The man gulped. “Yes, wife. Papist prayers. I say, do you want our 
son to go to Hell?” 

He was about to get up, but his wife held him back. 

“Teave it.” Her red, puffy eyes were filled with pain and 
resignation. “Do you think it makes any difference to Billy?” 

The man bent his head as the sun grew still paler. 

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22 . 

A gray light filtered through the curtains. The room was quiet and 
dark. Nancy delicately shut the door behind her: she liked seeing 
the girls sleeping. The little bodies were divided across two beds, 
the oldest one on her own. Under the blankets one could sense the 
rhythm of their breathing. 

Nancy smiled. She crossed the room to the window and pulled 
the curtains aside. 

The children moved. “Wake up! It’s time to get washed and have 
your breakfast!” 

The little ones began to sit up, yawning and rubbing their eyes. 
All but one. 

“Esther! Wake up, you don’t want to be the one to give a bad 

Then Nancy saw that the oldest girl’s bed was empty. 

“Where is Esther, girls ?” Her voice betrayed her anxiety. The girls 
didn’t reply. They merely looked sleepily at Nancy. “Esther! Where 
are you? Where have you got to ?” 

The woman came up beside the bed and lifted the blankets. The 
sheet was stained with a pool of blood. 

He had slept in a sheep pen after asking the shepherd’s permission. 
The man had been cordial, he had even invited him into his hut, 
but Philip had preferred to stay outside, under the stars, which were 
barely visible in that British night. The man had trusted him; even 
the sheep and the dogs had accepted the newcomer. He had traveled 
quite far and he would have to get up at first light if he was to keep 
his appointment. 

His sleep had been agitated. Lines in Latin buzzed around his 
head: pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris. He had dreamed of getting 
up and leaving the sheep pen, following a familiar shadow. It was 
the ghost of his wife, smiling, she touched his hair like a soft breeze 

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2 51 

and led him into the middle of the field, where there were two 
boxes to bury, one of them very small. His heart was heavy in his 
chest, as if weighed down by a stone. Your daughter, the ghost had 
whispered. Your daughter. Philip had looked into the smaller box. In 
the bottom there was only an object: the button from a drummers 
uniform tied to a lock of blond hair. He had tried to question the 
ghost, but its features had turned into the light of the moon. An 
oval face with its skin still smooth, and a long black plait, with a few 
white threads very visible. Philip had recognized her, half woman 
and half girl. Molly had looked at him severely, then pointed to the 
moon, red like the setting sun. The moon is bleeding. An animal has 
been injured. 

He had suddenly opened his eyelids, as if until that moment he 
had been pretending to sleep. A glimmer in the east announced the 

Now he was walking briskly back toward the city. The others were 
waiting for him at the Johnsons’ inn, to attend the audience with 
Lord Germain. 

Philip didn’t want to go. Sleep occluded his thoughts. 

This leaf is yellow and was painted by Grandpa Winter. This leaf 
is brown and was painted by Grandpa Winter. This leaf is red. . . 
No. No. No. What now? The moment had come. What moment? 
This leaf is yellow and was painted by Grandpa Winter. Blood, like 
Mama. No no no. Perhaps she should pray, certainly Nancy would 
have said, asked, ordered her to, but for some time Esther had 
been afraid of God. She was also afraid of admitting it, thinking 
it, feeling it. God. Fear. The blood between her legs. She wanted to 
touch herself. Fear. Was she going to die like Mama? No. She wasn’t 
dying. Cold liquid flowed between her legs. She didn’t want to pray. 
Mama’s song of the colors. This leaf is yellow and was painted by 
Grandpa Winter, this leaf is red. . . The nursery rhyme said Mister 
Winter, but Esther liked Grandpa and after a while that was how 
Mama had sung it, too. Grandpa Winter was Sir William, even if 
she knew it wasn’t true, but it was him. Grandpa. Mama. Where are 
you? Who will come and get me ? 

She wasn’t dying. When she had woken up and noticed this 
disaster, she had thought she was, but not any more. Some things 
you can feel. Certain special things she could feel, like seeing ghosts, 

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or horrible things to come. Grandpa William, for example, she 
saw him, every now and again. It was really him, but she hadn’t 
mentioned it to anyone. He smiled at her, with a kind smile. Once 
he had gestured to her, and then told her to go on. Not her mother, 
though. Not yet, but she hoped she would come, too. The important 
thing was not to say anything, not to talk to anyone. Even about 
that awful thing. If not, she would understand that it was bad. 
Would someone come and get her? Aunt Nancy, her father? God? 
The Devil? 

Her limbs were stiff with cold and exhaustion; it was day now. 
There was a yellow light, dirty with smoke, coming in through the 
windows of the shack where she had sought refuge. She was dirty. 
Her feet were numb and muddy. The blanket over her nightshirt 
wasn’t warm enough. At any rate, she wasn’t going to come out. They 
had to help her, but she wouldn’t ask for help. Not from anyone. 
She wasn’t dying. She was confused, dirty. She closed her eyes, drew 
in her shivering shoulders. She saw the house where she was born, 
beyond the sea. The big river, the valley, the woods. Then the outline 
of a woman, her face in shadow. She was waving to her before she 
left. There was Peter, too, he was in the doorway of Johnson Hall, 
dressed as a general, beckoning her in. He was saying, “Take your 

The vision disappeared. Would she get back to the old house? 
When? What was her place ? 

Since the death of Grandpa William the world had begun 
trembling, more and more. The green of the Mohawk Valley 
meadows was turning blood red. Why? 

Shivers ran down her spine again. Esther decided she would have 
to know more. About the blood. To test and defeat the terror. Not 
to be afraid of touching herself between her legs. Not to feel dirty. 
To find her place. To get home, to the green meadows. 

As long as someone came to get her, because she certainly wouldn’t 
be asking for help, and neither would she be going out alone. 

He sensed the agitation in the house as soon as he crossed the 
threshold. In the middle of the big room stood the thin figure of 
Nancy Claus; she was shouting orders to the servants. Every so often 
she paused, brought a hand to her mouth and bit it, pressing her 
stomach with the other. 

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2 59 

When she saw him she went toward him, but suddenly froze, and 
remained standing some distance away. 

“Mr. Lacroix, they’ve been waiting for you for so long. They were 
wondering. . . my God, there isn’t time, I can’t explain.” 

The Indian came over, stinking of sheep and sweat. 

“What’s happened?” 

“They all had to go to see Lord Germain, they waited for you 
for so long. . .” She bit the back of her hand again. She shouted at a 
servant to look again, to turn the inn upside down. 

“What’s happened?” Philip repeated. 

Nancy gave a start, as if she had forgotten the Indian’s presence for 
a moment. Philip noticed that she was still in her nightdress, covered 
only by a woolen shawl; curls fell untidily from under her bonnet. 

“Esther,” she said. “Vanished.” She held back a sob. “Guy didn’t 
want to go, it was Daniel who forced him to, that’s why we came to 
London, for this audience, they couldn’t. . .” 

This time the bite left a mark on her hand. 

Philip asked which room Guy Johnson’s daughters slept in, 
dashed upstairs and reached the bloodstained bed. He sniffed. The 
stink of London had dulled his sense of smell, but he could still 
recognize moon-blood. 

A cut that doesn’t heal. 

He came back downstairs and stopped on the last step. What 
does a wounded animal do? It finds a lair for itself. It hides. 

He looked around. Nancy was saying something to him, but he 
paid her no attention. The nearest exit was not the main one, but a 
little back door. 

Beyond the door was a courtyard, chickens and cackling geese. In 
the mud, little footprints led to a low shack at the far end, probably 
the woodshed. 

Philip cautiously entered. The low ceiling forced him to bend 
down, the reek of sawdust made his breath come short. As soon as 
he was past the threshold, before his eyes grew accustomed to the 
darkness, he heard her voice. 

“Keep away.” 

Philip crouched down in silence. The poisons of the bad air 
assaulted him again. He coughed, felt nausea and irritation. Dust 
you are and to dust you will return. He closed his eyes and restored 
his inner self to calm. 

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“Do you need help?” he asked into the gloom. 

Silence again. 

“I’m dirty.” 

The Great Devil spoke calmly. “So am I. This city is dirty.” 

“How did you work out I was here?” the voice asked 

“I had a dream,” the Indian replied. “In my daughter’s grave 
there was a lock of hair, blond like yours. She would be your age 

“She died as soon as she was born?” asked Esther, appearing from 
behind a tangle of dry branches. 

Philip leaned against a pile of logs. 

“She was very young.” 

“My mother’s dead, too. And my brother. There was blood 
everywhere, all the blood in the world.” 

The Indian met her eyes in a gap between the pieces of wood. 

“I’ve lost a lot of blood, too. Am I going to die?” asked Esther, 
rubbing her feet, red with cold and smeared with damp earth. 

“One day, like everyone else,” the Indian replied, getting slowly 
to his feet. “But not today. I’ll go and tell your aunt to come and 
get you.” 

As soon as he turned around, the dry branches creaked. 

“Why do they call you the Great Devil?” 

Philip turned around. 

“Because in war people like to frighten themselves. Then the war 
ends and the fear remains.” 

He was about to turn back, but she spoke again. It was as if she 
didn’t want him to leave, as if she feared that once he left her, his 
sincerity would disappear with him. 

“I dream about dead people too. Sometimes I dream about 
Grandpa William.” 

Philip smiled but said nothing. The girl had the gift, she was close 
to ghosts. He had noticed it the first time while he observed the ant- 
men from the mast of the Adamant. Now she was there in front of 
him, staring at him, as though waiting to solve a puzzle. 

He did it without thinking. He slipped off his wampum bracelet 
and handed it to her. 

“It’ll protect you. From the living and the dead.” 

She took it and gripped it in her fist. Then she slipped her pale 

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hand into the hunter’s rough one. An old sensation returned to him, 
and he shivered. 

Philip led the child out of the woodshed. 

A flutter of impressions and fears filled the head of Guy Johnson as 
he made resolutely for the inn. 

Guy Johnson, American, colonel, superintendent, subject of, 
successor of, son-in-law of, father. 

A valet had handed him a message as he left the audience. Guy 
and Daniel still stood on the threshold, their faces still plastered 
with excruciating traces of the smiles that etiquette decreed. They 
lacked Joseph’s savoir-faire , a confident, dreamy style, sleepwalking 
with power and pomp. In London, the Indian from Canajoharie had 
been reborn as a ceremonial beast, an exotic dog-show champion. 
No new life, on the other hand, for the German and the Irishman: 
just politics, a task to be performed with a weight crushing his 
chest, a result to be grabbed and brought home. A home filled with 
a whirlwind, a wind that swirled and splashed blood all around. 

The note had been written by Nancy: they had found Esther. 
Philip Lacroix had found her. They had to thank the Great Devil 
for the second time. 

She was well, but she was no longer a child. He had to remember 
that: the blood changes everything, there’s a before and an after. 

The icy blade that had been cutting his brain in two had melted, 
and the return journey was less painful. He actually managed 
to speak, to comment upon the audience, although some of his 
attention still flitted far away and back beyond the sea. Every now 
and again he gripped his lips between his teeth, the future was thick 
with smoke, decisions to take, requests and expectations. Who 
would go with him to confront it? What proof of himself would he 
give, and in front of which audience ? He knew he had a part to play, 
and he didn’t feel like an actor. 

Frightened by her own blood, Esther had hidden in the woodshed. 

She was no longer a child, and that was all the more reason for 
Guy to punish her. He had to punish her, show that he could be 
firm, in this circumstance and in others. 

She had caused disorder and worry. She had violated a rule 
of obedience, she had run away. She had run away and had to be 

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punished. He would have to do it, to set an example to the younger 

To set an example to everyone. 

It was what was expected of him: punish those who run away for 
fear of their own blood. It went with his authority. 

He knew he had a part to play, but he didn’t feel like an actor. His 
prevailing feeling was relief that she was safe and sound. 

He entered the room, where she was sitting on the bed, and she 
lifted her chin with what looked to him like sad indifference. He 
approached her with his back bent, as if about to wrap his arms 
around her. She didn’t move. He called to her, and she shook her 
head as if to deny her own name. Her father raised his voice; she 
didn’t reply. He bent down to look her in the eyes, lifted her chin 
with his hand. Again he called her by name. Shame, exhaustion, 
defiance, rancor, fear, filial love, distance. . . what was there in his 
daughter’s eyes ? 

Guy held her tight. She moved her arms slightly and rested her 
hands on her father’s hips, a reluctant hug suspended in midair. 

They stayed that way without saying a word, in the room of an 
inn in the biggest city in the world. 

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23 . 

London, 19 March 1776 

Honored Cousin John, 

I am writing to you because I have learned of the provocation 
orchestrated against you and our family by the Albany rebels. 
News has reached the Colonial Office that the Indians of Fort 
Hunter have accompanied Gen. Schuyler to Johnson Hall to 
make sure that nothing happens to you, but you will be stripped 
of guns and powder. I think the contemptible behavior of the 
Indians may be explained only by offers of money, spirits or 
something else. I beg you to verify this hypothesis and above all 
to ascertain whether the rebels, contrary to what was thought, 
possess sufficient means to sustain a semblance of trade with the 
Indians. In that case, the Mohawks of Canajoharie must of course 
be rewarded for their loyalty with presents of at least double that 
value, so that the others see where the advantage/ their interest 

As regards the loyalty of the Indians, I would ask you to give 
me information about the activities of Butler in Niagara and the 
relations that the rebels maintain with the Seneca chiefs. 

As for us, the goal that we established for this journey has 
now been reached. After two months of waiting, we have had the 
honor of being received by His Majesty and by the Secretary of 
State for the Colonies. The latter has proved so opposed to the 
conduct of Governor Carleton that he has sought to give Joseph 
Brant his official apologies for what has happened in Canada. 
The job of superintendent, in the end, was conferred upon me by 
the Secretary of State himself. 

The future of Mr. Daniel Claus, however, remains uncertain. 
Therefore, it is necessary to remain in London for some time, 
the better to clarify the issue of his appointment. Meanwhile, 

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Joseph Brant must meet for a second time with Lord Germain, 
to obtain orders regarding the territorial controversies that he 
has already presented to him. I shall not hide from you the fact 
that the presence of our Indians, more than that of the prisoners 
captured in Montreal, has been very useful to us. The people 
of London consider them on a par with princes and they have 
become such an attraction to the aristocracy that no one giving 
any sort of entertainment can avoid including them among the 
guests of honor. 

I have nothing else to add, but remain, with esteem and 

Your affectionate cousin, 

Col. Guy Johnson 

After signing the letter, the superintendent blew on the ink, picked 
up the sheet and reread it from the beginning. It was a good letter. 
Yet he still felt a lump in the bottom of his throat. It had nothing to 
do with politics, diplomacy, the Indians. The fact was that he could 
not confess to anyone what it was that oppressed him the most. 

Colonel Guy Johnson was frightened. The expedition to Johnson 
Hall was to all intents and purposes the first act of war in the 
Mohawk Valley. The new superintendent of Indian Affairs in the 
Northern Colonies would willingly remain in London until the 
following winter, and perhaps even beyond. Had it not been for all 
the wealth he had accumulated in the New World, he would have 
returned to Ireland, to his own people. 

Where would he take his daughters ? The exodus and the strains 
of the journey had already killed Mary and the baby, the heir he 
would have called William but who had died before he had a 
name. Esther and the little ones were the only family left to him. 
He couldn’t allow the war to sweep them away too. He had to leave 
them in London, in safety. Find a good boarding school, go back to 
America on his own. See things in person, judge, judge what needed 
to be done. Quickly win back the lands of the Johnsons, rout the 
rebels, start living again. 

Colonel Guy Johnson was frightened. He hated cannons. He 
didn’t even like hunting. In London you could get away with it: no 
one claimed the Earl of Warwick was a good shot. In London you 

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could be an aristocrat, a merchant, a judge, a minister. In America 
you were a warrior above all, like the Indians. In America you knew 
that sooner or later it would be your turn to fight, to risk your skin. 
In America, wealth, power, prestige all rested on the barrel of a gun. 
Being frightened wasn’t allowed. 

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24 . 

“You have to agree, Doughty. Science cannot help but be objective.” 

“Objective in its ideals, but subject to circumstances, like all 
human affairs.” 

“In this case, it is a matter of opinion.” 

“And yet you remember the dispute between Wilson and 
Benjamin Franklin.” 

“Over the lightning rod?” 

“Precisely. Which is more functional, a long and pointed 
lightning rod or one that is short and rounded?” 

“I can’t remember which of the two was right.” 

“Because the experiments didn’t succeed in demonstrating it. 
Nonetheless the king decided to agree with Wilson, and now his 
theories are in the scientific manuals and his lightning rods are on 
our steeples.” 

“I don’t see what you’re getting at.” 

“Well, they will never be able to persuade me that that choice 
depended only on scientific arguments. Wilson was a Tory, Franklin 
a Whig. One from London, the other colonial. One was protected 
by Lord Whatshisface, the other was a commercial representative 
from Pennsylvania. Which do you think counted for more, scientific 
objectivity or the rebellion in New England? I bet you a guinea that 
in Pennsylvania they have pointed lightning rods the way we have 
rounded ones here.” 

Peter stopped listening in on the discussion between the two 
gentlemen, who went on debating undeterred. He observed the 
triangular room of the Royal Society with his nose pointing toward 
the ceiling, toward the wooden shelves, the rows of neatly lined 
books, packed tight as bricks, that seemed to support the walls. 

Walking with his head tilted up he risked colliding with the other 
guests, who looked at him resentfully. He apologized and walked 
apart from them. The titles on the big shelves sounded bombastic 

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and instilled a feeling of fear in him. The few people present at 
that hour of the day were holding discussions in groups of two or 
three, in lowered voices. They looked as if they must be resolving 
fundamental dilemmas, confronting them reverently, on tiptoe. 

Tord Warwick, benefactor and member of the society by family 
tradition, had obtained membership for him as soon as he learned 
of his passion. For Peter science was an interest that dated back 
to Johnson Hall and his father’s microscopes, which had always 
fascinated him. 

“In Tondon there’s a place where scientists debate their theories 
and their experiments. The king protects them and ensures that 
everyone can enjoy the new discoveries and the inventions.” 

In his mind, the boy saw Sir William raising his face from the 
microscope and inviting his son to come over and look into it. A 
clear memory, from when he was a child. He felt the warm, heavy 
hand that had rested on his shoulder as he watched tiny creatures 
moving under the lens. 

“Corpuscles, Peter,” his father had said. “Microbes. Creatures so 
small that the human eye couldn’t see them without the aid of this 
invention. Do you understand?” 

Peter had nodded. 

He had spent whole afternoons, as endless as they can only be 
at that age, in the Room of Science. The temple of the incredible, 
where every object could reveal a hidden side of nature. Mechanical 
models for perpetual motion, steam-driven spinning tops, the 
camera obscura that showed reality upside down. Again he thought 
of the microscope. How much room was there on a slide? How 
many things could there be on it? A whole world, a universe. It 
was no different from looking at the stars and imagining how many 
there were or how big the sky was. 

“They move. They reproduce. They die,” the voice behind him 
had said. “The aspiration of every scientist is to discover the secret 
of life.” 

Peter had raised his head and looked seriously at his father. 

“Pastor Stuart says it’s one of God’s mysteries, and that wanting to 
know it is blasphemy.” 

Sir William had smiled. 

“God has given us eyes, hands and an intellect. Do you think he 
would have done that if he had wanted to keep us in ignorance?” 

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Peter sat down on one of the stools in the conference room. 
He had always liked the strong smell of polished wood. The 
stench of Fleet Street did not reach the august halls of Crane 
Court. His chest swelled with emotion. Being there, in the place 
described by Sir William so long before, seemed a tribute to his 
memory and to the happy years spent in Johnson Hall, in the 
valley that had been his whole world, until they had sent him to 
study in Philadelphia. 

That was why he had wanted to go there, leaping at the chance 
offered by Lord Warwick. Alone, accompanied only by the 
chairmen put at his disposal by the earl. Peter had walked, at the 
risk of muddying his shoes, and the two men had followed him with 
the empty sedan chair and puzzled expressions, stopping to wait for 
him outside the building. 

“We aren’t blaspheming when we try to know the laws that God 
has imposed upon the universe. Let us pay homage to his creative 
intelligence and celebrate his work. We don’t claim to know the 
divine reason that has given rise to things, but we investigate their 
intrinsic mechanism. The long chain of causes and effects that make 
them the way they are. You understand?” 

Peter remembered nodding again, desiring to please his father. 
The concept wasn’t very clear to him, but the creatures doing battle 
under the lens piqued his curiosity and that was enough. But as 
he grew up he had come to understand that Sir William’s faith 
transcended all denominations and at the same time ran through 
them all. In his valley there was room for everybody. The King 
of England and the Pope were far away, and the Master of Life 
worshipped by the Mohawks was not unworthy of being called 
God, even if he was addressed in savage and picturesque ways. Even 
as a child Peter had known that not all ceremonies in the forest were 
Indian. On the night of the Summer Solstice, in the depths of the 
forest, bonfires were lit and Gaelic was spoken, and masses were 
celebrated that the light of day would have forbidden. The Scottish 
refugees and his father’s Irish settlers communicated in dialects as 
old as the rocks. The Language of the Night. Sir William used it 
when he wanted to tell Peter something intimate that others must 
not catch. 

“It is the language of faith, of blood and war,” he said. “They don’t 
speak it by chance.” 

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English, on the other hand, was used to command, to write and 
understand from one end of the valley to the other. In Philadelphia 
he had also been taught French, the language of the enemy. 

But Mohawk was the language he preferred. Mohawk smelled of 
rum and furs. It was the language of trade and hunting, of councils 
and diplomacy. But above all, for him, it was the language of 

Molly’s severe face appeared to him and he felt the grip of the 
strong little hands, so different from his father’s. The Room of 
Science had never been her world, and yet she, too, was fascinated by 
it. She saw Sir William’s instruments as interpreters, capable of giving 
an account of nature in the language of the white men. Molly was 
interested in the link between microbes and illnesses, in electricity 
as a form of treatment, in the practices of the English doctors. “It’s 
a good medicine,” she said, “but it cannot heal dreams.” Dreams, 
amulets, ritual dances. Peter had learned to appreciate those too, as 
part of the life of the valley. His mother seemed to be the center of 
it, as important as the river or the meadows. It was as if everything 
down there gravitated around her. That wasn’t just his childish 
perception: as he grew up, the idea had been reinforced, and even if 
he couldn’t understand all of Molly’s mysteries, he understood that 
her power thrust its roots through the night of time. The songs that 
had lulled him to sleep for years had been composed in the shade 
of the ancient pines and handed down since the beginning of the 

Suddenly he realized that he was feeling nostalgic and sad. The 
news from home was not good. If the rebels had made it as far as 
Johnson Hall, they could reach Canajoharie in a day’s march. Molly 
was in danger. 

He said to himself, No, the people of the valley would protect 
her, and his mother was too cunning to be surprised. She might even 
have left, like Uncle Joseph’s wife, taking her brothers and sisters to 
a safer place. The rebels couldn’t take it out on women and children; 
it was John, his oldest half-brother, who was at risk. Peter shivered 
at the thought that the house where he had spent the first few years 
of his life might be sacked. The envious settlers had always aspired 
to empty it of all its furnishings, raid the cupboards and storerooms, 
the armory and the stables, and steal the slaves. They would also 
steal the microscope and the machines in the Room of Science, and 

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there was nothing he could do to stop it. They were bound to think 
as Pastor Stuart did, or even worse. They would break his father’s 
precious lenses, scatter the slides and test tubes, smash the camera 
obscura. Their god left no room for anything, he was small, mean 
and obtuse. The very image of his believers. 

He got to his feet and contemplated the great Room of Science 
commanded by His Majesty George III. 

It was time to go back. He had to fight those people, chase them 
back into the bog they had come from, prevent them at all costs 
from destroying what his father had built. 

Now the capture of Ethan Allen seemed small beer. 

He had to shoot straight. Defend his country. 

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25 . 

Being a doorkeeper wasn’t as bad as all that, Lester thought. A lousy 
job like so many others, but the occasional tip made it better. Now, 
with the coal-heavers on strike for two weeks, the odd extra penny 
came in very useful. There was a difference between paying someone 
to bring the sweets home for you and having to go all the way to the 
dock with the wheelbarrow, all the way there, all the way back, and 
your spine cracked. A bit of a tip, that’s right, even in the filthiest 
arsehole of the city, the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem. Known 
to everyone as Bedlam, the Place of the Mad People. 

Lester boasted of having invented it himself, the Bedlam tip, but 
it wasn’t true, not a word. The patent was down to his old boss, a 
first-class fucker, who had shagged a laundress from St. Giles. Lester 
had taken the blame and Lord Garfield had had to fire him, as you to 
do servants who fuck each other. In return, the boss had found him 
this job, and so he’d gone from town-house doorman to madhouse 
doorman, which when you put it like that was a fuckover with bells 
on, but then the business with the tips had come out, because in 
London there were loads of madames and milords just dying to 
catch a gander of the loonies, hear them scream and especially 
see them naked. Among these weirdos, needless to say, was Lord 
Garfield himself, who in exchange for free entrance throughout his 
natural life would bring hordes of friends willing to shell out the 
pelf. A few months later, the lord had popped his clogs, so Lester 
had had to widen his circle, as you might say. Now he was picking 
up bookings, organizing visits on the quiet, and pocketing the tips 
as if he were a doorman at a theater. 

An unexpected coach stopped outside the gate. Five of them got 
out and gestured him over. Lester threw his coat over his shoulders 
and set off' down the avenue, which had been reduced to a path by 
the grass that besieged it. Four blackbirds and a little sparrow. They 
wore wigs and gilded buttons; she had a mountain of hair that stayed 

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2 7 2 


up by a miracle, and a tiny bonnet on top. If they were people of pelf, 
they certainly didn’t splash out on sorting out their choppers. The 
half-smiles that greeted Lester would have scared off' a flock of bats. 

“We’re here for the loonies,” said the elegant man of the group, 
leaning knowingly on his stick. 

“This is the place, sir.” 

“I am well aware of that, dear fellow. And I also know of a porter 
who organizes scientific visits to the hospital, is that not so?” 

“I have heard as much. But I believe you have to arrange an entry 
time, you know? And be introduced by the old members of the 

“I understand,” the man laughed scornfully, displaying his pegs 
as if they were pearls. “And tell me: do you think a guinea might be 

A guinea? Christ. 

“I really believe it might, sir. Please, this way.” 

A place of fear. What did the fine gentlemen get out of it, Neil 
wondered. Take a walk around the Abbey and you’ll find as many as 
you want of these loony roughers. Take them one at a time you can 
have a good sneer at them, I wouldn’t say no, one of them you just 
have to say a sparrow’s name and zip, oft come the breeches and he’s 
tugging on it ready to slip it between your baps, but not altogether, 
no, in a great crowd they’d put the shits up you, no question, it’s like 
a hell full of wandering souls, and if one of the grilles comes down, 
that’ll wipe the sneer from your face. 

Rob and Cole must have got a cramp keeping their buttocks tight, 
Neil thought. Or maybe not. Maybe there’s respect between idiots, 
something like they can’t hurt each other, something like that. Not 
that they’re idiots, Rob and Cole, but the others, the idiots with the 
tuffs, they don’t even know, you just have to stay on the right side of 
the grille and they can’t do anything more than spit on your shoulder 
or piss on your feet. Rather than staying on this side, let’s say the whole 
thing comes down all of a sudden, you’d better get a move on, you bet, 
get Rob and Cole out of there and head for the hills. 

What the fuck do they get out of it, these fine gentlemen from 
Nobshire. . . 

Let’s start the games, thought Dave, the Emperor. He’d been 
clocking the rafters inside the cage at the end on the right-hand side. 

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2 73 

“Gentlemen, milady, we find ourselves here today to repair an 
odious injustice.” 

A sudden motion and he had turned toward the thugs looking 
shitty and haughty. He was standing beside the host, who was 
clocking him with vexation. The Emperor, still for the moment in 
the garb of a jasper with no shortage of shekels, complete with wig 
and assorted furbelows, was launching into his number, with the 
thugs as ever clueless concerning the spicy details. 

“Yes, my dears,” he rested his right mawley on the doormans 
shoulder, “a terrible, tragic injustice. Certainly my friends will be 
thinking about our two brothers, Rob and Cole, perhaps the best of 
us, lying imprisoned in this vale of terrible suffering. And who are we 
to say they are wrong?” He gripped the doormans shoulders tightly. 
“Rob and Cole ! Two honest patriots, judged as mad and locked up for 
daring to defend their own dignity and that of the people with whom 
they are on a par. Madmen, lunatics, loonies, crazies, maniacs, nutcases, 
bonkers, off their rockers, daft, demented, deranged, unhinged! That’s 
what they are! What the stupid do not understand they call Folly. 
That is the truth. It is that truth that brings us here today.” He bowed 
deeply to a baffled Take-a-Tip Lester. The thugs weren’t getting much 
of it either. He paused like an actor. “Too easy, too convenient would 
it be for us to reclaim our dear friends and take them into our care. To 
reclaim those taken from us by force and trickery. Just and sacrosanct. 
But small beer. A greater task awaits us today.” 

At this point poor Lester grasped that it was time to intervene, 
that the hack was strange, and as he went on spouting and spouting, 
it would start making sense sooner or later. He was scared shitless — 
was the whole thing going to blow up in his face ? The jasper wouldn’t 
shut up. What the fuck was going on? 

“Gentlemen, the laws and customs allow some men the right to 
assess the human mind. We are not here to question the value of 
your science or weep over your choices, decide whether they are 
correct or not. Instead, we are standing against the right of what 
they call honest men to choose for others incarceration for life in 
hospitals. Places that are nothing but terrifying prisons. This can no 
longer be tolerated. The Mad are the victims par excellence. They 
are men, these people here. Over these men, you must acknowledge, 
you have no advantage but force. It is to overturn this advantage that 
we are here. Dear boy, hand me the keys to the cages.” 

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2 74 

He pulled the knob on the end of the stick and drew out a blade, 
long and thin, which he put to Lester’s neck, and opened up his 
gobhole, affecting surprise at the sight of his gold gnashers. 

What a complete cuckoo, thought Betty, known as Glut, who 
was crammed into the finery of a woman of high estate. Even though 
she had seen and endured, God knows, so many whoremasters it 
would make you blush, even she couldn’t help feeling a certain 
bafflement. There must have been some sense in all the bilge he 
was coming out with, because a madman like the Emperor had 
kept himself out of Bedlam, which must mean that the system 
wasn’t working. But he was strong in his way. He had managed 
to get hold of the keys, all of them, and he had opened the gates 
to the cages, all of them. Then he had started shrieking like the 
savage he was. The thugs had come leaping out straightaway. Rob 
and Cole, filthy and twisted, hopped like quails down the corridor 
and toward the exit, because the great sacks of shit could already 
see themselves several leagues away. But Dave wasn’t doing it on 
purpose; he was clutching the bars of the cage and yelling that 
they had to get out of there, the moment had come, justice had 
arrived. The guard wailed, asked for mercy, howled that this was 
dangerous. Surrounded by the thugs of the chief of the Indians of 
London, there wasn’t much he could do but whine. 

The loons looked scared. Some of them, half-naked, stepped 
outside the bars, but without conviction, and none of them dashed 
for the exit. 

It was then that Betty worked out her role. She could hardly 
believe her peepers. That shaven-headed jasper was telling her 
to whip out her merchandise and get the show going. Yes, really, 
out with the ninnies and do those games she’d been so good at on 
the Tottenham Court Road. He was really crazy. Meanwhile, all 
the malchicks in the gang had turned to clock her, and with the 
frontages they had it wasn’t easy to distinguish them from the rest. 
What dregs. Betty turned a grimace of disgust upon them all and 
then — what else was she to do? — started her number, because after 
all the stinking tosspots in the taverns of Soho were certainly no 
better. All she had to do was pretend she was at One-Eye’s and just 
get on with it. Because what she did was hardly the Dance of the 
Seven Veils; it was just that when she got all filthy with her dugs 
all the sleazy jaspers got the horn. Fingering them, squeezing them. 

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2 75 

shaking them, bringing them to her mouth and running her tongue 
over them, all the usual. 

The Emperor took center stage. The loons emerged from their 
cages, almost in orderly lines, as the Tondon Mohock nodded to 
Betty to walk backward toward the exit. The Emperor had grabbed 
a torch, and as the long corridor filled up, he guided the herd like 
a shepherd. He sang his singsong louder, forced them to take their 
freedom, but Betty’s huge mams were the secret of this exodus from 

But what a horrible business it was. It was scary being the bait for 
that gang of brainwrecks following her like puppies. Jesus, cocks of 
all shapes and sizes, standing proud from their owners, gripped in 
great mawleys, Jesus, the sight of it, unbelievable! 

The gates of Bethlehem opened up on London. 

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26 . 

“If we guarantee freedom to the Negroes and America to the 
Indians, what are we left with, gentlemen?” 

“Indeed. To whom will you sell your African slaves, if the 
Somerset ruling becomes law?” 

“For my part, Mr. Pole, I could ask you where you will get the 
wood for your building sites in New York, if the inland forests 
remain in the hands of the redskins.” 

“ Touche . But the root of both problems is the same; it is called 

“Oh, no, Mr. Gilbert. America would be the solution. Myopia is 
the true villain: in trying to get a commercial monopoly, we will end 
up losing the whole market. 

“Come on, don’t be pessimistic, the spring counteroffensive is 
under way. His Majesty is sending troops to close the account with 
these rebels.” 

“I have heard that. German mercenaries, it would appear. That’s 
what started the decline of the Roman Empire.” 

“Good God, how gloomy you are.” 

“Not gloomy enough, Cavendish. I expect the worst. But, as they 
say, a businessman has to be farsighted. We must allow the storm to 
pass. Then our moment will come.” 

“Difficult words for this hour of the afternoon. I suggest, 
gentlemen, that we move on to other topics. Is it true that our 
Corsica Boswell has sequestered himself in private with the prince 
of the Indians ?” 

“Yes. I believe they are having an interview.” 

“Nothing less, Mr. Whitebread. So the competition has beaten 
you to it.” 

“Little harm done.” 

“Perhaps Boswell will stop boring us with his Corsican friends 
and start advocating the Indian cause.” 

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2 77 

“If that should be the case, Mr Pole, you may be certain that we 
shall shortly see him with feathers on his head.” 

“While we are on the subject, rumors are circulating that the 
warrior savage has been affiliated to the Lodge of the Falcon.” 
“Chief Joseph Brant, a freemason? There must be some mistake. 
I’m sure he belongs to the clan of the Crocodile.” 

“That’s jolly good. Who would ever have thought that we would 
live to see such stupidity?” 

“Negroes, Corsicans or Indians, this obsession with the exotic 
must come to an end. As we predicted, it is beginning to do serious 
damage right under our noses. You must have read about what 
happened at Bedlam three nights ago.” 

“Certainly, it’s unbelievable.” 


“It has to be said. Women violated in the middle of the street. 
Men engaging in the most sordid indecencies against tree trunks 
and lamp posts.” 

“Unnatural acts. . . with dogs and chickens. It took two days to 
catch them all again.” 

“We had said that these city Indians were a danger.” 

“But the flatus vocis is not enough, gentlemen. And neither is the 
sharp quill of our friend Panifex here. We must put things in order.” 
“What do you mean by that ?” 

“Events have proved us right. This confusion must come to an 
end. We may not be able to keep them from abolishing slavery. But 
no more Indians going around London. Or in Soho. Or in our club. 
The two thousand Negroes crowding into the slums of the East End 
are quite enough, thank you.” 

“The Indian delegation will be setting off again soon. There is 
nothing to worry about.” 

“Fine. Very good, Mr Whitebread. So let us hope that their 
imitators disappear at the same time.” 

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27 . 

From the Daily Courant of 8 May 1776. 


On the 6th of this month, for the second time since their arrival in 
the city, the superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs, 
Col. Johnson, and the prince of the Mohawks, Joseph Brant 
Thayendanegea, were received by the secretary of state for the 

At the end of the discussion I approached Col. Johnson for 
details of the meeting, who couldn’t resist my request and asked 
his secretary to give me a copy of the speech that the prince had 
delivered to Lord Germain. 

I reproduce it here, as I received it, for the delectation of our 

Brother (thus Prince Thayendanegea addressed the secretary 
of state for the Colonies!), 

In our last discussion you replied with few words, saying that 
you would address the claims of the Six Nations concerning 
their lands, in particular those of the Mohawks, and that you 
would resolve them; that all this would be sorted out to our great 
satisfaction as soon as the troubles in America were over, and that 
you hoped that the Six Nations would continue to show the same 
attachment to the King that they have always demonstrated; 
in that case, they could depend upon His Majesty’s favor and 

Brother, we thank you for you promise, and we hope to see 
it maintained and not to be disappointed, as has happened so 

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2 79 

often, in spite of the warm friendship of the Mohawks toward His 
Majesty and His Majesty’s government; you have been reminded 
of this so often by the Six Nations that their inability to obtain 
justice has become a source of surprise to all the Indian Nations. 

Brother, the chaos prevailing in America and the distance that 
separates us from our country allows us only to say that upon 
our return we will inform the Chiefs and Warriors of what we 
have seen and heard, and unite with them in taking the wisest 
measures to stop this uproar. 

Brother, as we will soon depart for our own country, after 
being here for many months, we ask you not to listen to all 
the falsehoods that can be heard about the Indians, but only 
to the decisions coming in from our chiefs and the wise men 
of the Council, which will be communicated to you by our 

It seems obvious, in spite of the references to the old treaties and the 
warm friendship, that the Indians of the Six Nations by now have 
adopted our own way of forging alliances, not so much in the name 
of some abstract loyalty, but more with a view to gaining something. 
We take cognizance of this, considering it a sign of their progressive 
civilization, which, as certain philosophers know, cannot help but 
overcome a certain purity of spirit. What we don’t understand, 
in fact, is how they have reached the peculiar conclusion that His 
Majesty and the government should wait for the decision of the 
tribal chiefs concerning Indian intervention in the troubles in the 
colonies, when we learn that such an intervention has never been 
requested and that the tribal chiefs thus find themselves in the in 
the position of having to wait for a proclamation from His Majesty 
permitting them to marshal their warriors among the ranks of the 
army. The difference may seem subtle, but in fact it is major and 
is born, we believe, from a misunderstanding of the words of the 
secretary of state, who asked Prince Thayendanegea to preserve 
the attachment of the Indians to their king, without meaning to 
formalize thus a request for military support. We do not hide the 
fact, that events in America do not seem to us to require intervention 
by the allies, on one side or the other. As Sallust said, “there are allies 
it is better not to marshal.” The only Indians we wish to see fighting 
with our redcoats are the Sohocks of whom Tondon has gossiped so 

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much over the past few months. For two weeks now no crimes have 
been attributed to these savages — who are, of course, less civilized 
than their alleged brothers — and according to various rumors they 
have been captured by a press gang and put on a naval vessel bound 
for the colonies. 

Soon London will also be saying farewell to the authentic Indians. 
In a month the delegation led by Prince Thayendanegea will set oft 
for New York. We hope that their deployment in battle will not, 
even on the other side of the Atlantic, inspire the scum and the 
rogues of either shore to commit crimes and demand tributes. 

If we remember rightly, the criminals who attacked the ships in 
the port of Boston and threw the tea of the East India Company 
into the sea were also disguised as Mohawk Indians. A similar 
spirit of imitation has already caused enough disturbance. There is 
certainly no need to blow on this fire. 


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The troop marshalled behind the boy presented arms. Peter 
advanced toward the general. Drums and fifes sharpened their steps. 
The sun shone high, clouds ran eastward. Banners fluttered. 

It was magnificent. All the beauty of martial life encompassed 
in a single scene, the vault of the sky like a stage set. At the end of 
his speech, General Burgoyne pinned on the medal: the ceremony 
allowed the decorated man to say a word of thanks. 

Guy Johnson smiled. Without a doubt, this half-breed did 
the name of the Johnsons proud. Satisfaction shone from the 
superintendent’s face: another success to add to the bag. But only 
another Mohawk, impassive as themselves, would have been aware 
of the gratification in the eyes of the two Indians. 

Peter opened his mouth. The superintendent, the prince and the 
hermit pricked up their ears. A flurry of excitement ran the length of 
the parade ground. But the wind carried his voice away. 

Only his last words were clear. 

“. . . there are still many of them, and more dangerous than Ethan 
Allen. I know my duty, and for that reason I ask of Your Excellency 
the honor of being able to serve the king and my country by joining 
your regiment.” 

The boy’s eyes gleamed. 

The Americans stayed stock still. It took only a glance at them to 
understand that Peter had kept everyone in the dark. 

The moment seemed to go on forever. Dressed in his red uniform, 
Burgoyne looked at the young man for a long time, as though weighing 
up the request. Then he gave the lad a sardonic smile. And refused. 

Peter took the blow without moving a muscle, but the general 
went on speaking. His voice, used to issuing orders, cut through 
the parade ground from one end to the other. Each of His Majesty’s 
soldiers was fighting for the kingdom and for his own home, he 
said. That was why flag -bearer Peter Johnson would not enroll in a 

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regiment that was bound for Canada, but in the reinforcements of 
the 26th Cameronian, which had just been detailed to the colony of 
New York. They would be leaving in two months. The young hero 
would be able to fight for his native land. 

Peter seemed to stand even more to attention, as if trying to 
detach himself from the earth. But events would find him firmly 
in his place. He had made the best choice. His mother would be 
proud of him, the memory of his father would be honored by his 
son’s victory over his old enemies. 

That was how it should be. It was time to beat a path of his own. 

Philip studied the boy’s face and guessed his thoughts. He was 
ready. It was no longer a desire for adventure, and there was nothing 
that he wanted to prove. He had crossed the threshold. He had 
found a reason to fight, and he would fight to the end. 

It had happened to him and to Joseph, many years before. 

“It was up to us to take the boy to war.” 

Philip was waiting for a similar reaction from Joseph. He wasn’t 
happy, either. At the end of the day melancholy came upon him, 
weighed unmistakably upon his back. 

Joseph’s face was grim. He had refused to take a carriage, preferring 
to go back on foot. Philip had decided to accompany him. After 
dusk, the streets were not safe. 

“That’s what we’ve done. That’s why Ethan Allen is in chains and 
the boy can walk alone,” he went on as he tried to avoid the puddles. 
He stopped in front of Joseph and looked him in the eyes. “You said 
we had to fight for the king.” 

Joseph’s jaw tightened. 

“I’m proud that my nephew is fighting in the king’s army’ he said. “But 
I wanted him by my side. I wanted him to fight alongside our warriors.” 

Joseph tried to move away. Philip held him by the arm and went 
on staring him in the face. 

“He has chosen to fight with the whites, his father’s people. Every 
man has a path marked out for him in heaven.” 

For a moment Joseph felt he had lost his bearings. Monstrous 
shadows crept along the walls, insidious as snakes. It was dark, and 
the lamplighters had not yet been on their rounds. 

Night was falling. Without saying another word the two men 
quickened their steps. 

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29 . 

A flock of ducks flew across the clouds, one behind the other, an 
arrow point in search of the horizon. The Earl of Warwick reflected 
that those birds would see many more lands than he. A pair of wings 
could do more than wealth and quarterings of nobility. Nature 
imposes migration on certain creatures. And perhaps on certain 
men. Others are sedentary, the chains that bind them to places are 
heavy, rusty, though in certain cases gilded. Warwick tried in vain 
to count the birds: too mobile. The pleasures of gregariousness 
would never abandon them. They would remain a flock of ducks 
until death, until the next generation of ducks, and their kind would 
never succumb to boredom. 

The Earl of Warwick studied the man posing for Mr. Romney: 
diadem of feathers, white shirt, silver bracelets at the ends of his 
sleeves. The portrait of Prince Thayendanegea in campaign dress 
would remain as eloquent testimony to their friendship. 

“You are in good hands, Mr. Brant. Mr. Romney manages to put 
light into the eyes of his models. The soul shines through the tip of 
his brush.” 

Warwick’s voice was even, without a hint of excitement. The 
painter modestly lowered his eyes; Romney was well aware of his 
own mastery. Each action was rarefied and shrouded in sacrality. 
Mixing the paints. Holding up the brush to measure the sitter. 
Spreading trails of different pigments over the canvas: quick dabs 
like a puppy’s tongue licking a bowl of milk, strokes as broad as the 
current of a river when it reaches the plain. 

“We’re nearly finished,” said the painter. “Please lift your chin a 
little, Mr. Brant.” 

Warwick looked outside again. The afternoon light was clear; it 
heralded the season of fine weather. 

“Have you ever suffered from melancholy, Mr. Brant? I have. 
It always catches me at this hour of the day. In ancient times they 

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would have said that my life was ruled by Saturn. Is there an Indian 
remedy for this state of mind?” 

Joseph gave a confident reply. 

“Hunting. Lying with a woman. Playing with the children. 
Smoking your pipe. Dancing. Or sitting and looking at the horizon. 
It’s strange, but the most varied remedies seem to cure the same ill.” 

Warwick nodded. 

“Tell me. Are you never homesick? What do you think when 
your mind turns toward home ?” 

The faces of Susanna and the children appeared in Josephs mind. 
The farm. Canajoharie. Molly. 

“Of my wife’s breath, beside me at night. Of the skin of my 
children. Of smells. The scent of bilberries in the woods along the 
river, roasted maize and maple syrup. Of the good things in my 
sister’s general store.” 

Warwick looked as if he were about to cry. “If I belonged to a 
place other than this one, I, too, would be homesick. I may confess 
to you that I sometimes feel something very similar. A longing for 
the unknown, of things unseen, unimagined. A longing for the lives 
of other people whose paths have crossed mine.” 

“You have been generous to us,” said Joseph. “You have asked 
nothing in return but my painted image. This is. . .” he tried to find 
the right word in some cleft of his mind, “. . .flattering. I hope one 
day to be able to pay back my debt to you by acting as your host 
in America. You would be most welcome. We would cure your 

Warwick chuckled. He saw himself surrounded by a gang of 
Indian women and children, but suddenly he realized he didn’t 
know how to imagine them: the only Indian he had known was 
standing in front of him. 

Emotion gripped his throat and moistened his eyes. 

He spoke in a hoarse voice. 

“You know, in my life I have never traveled. Far from this island 
I would feel lost. London and I are two bad-tempered lovers. We 
tease each other, we allow each other fleeting betrayals. But we will 
never leave one another.” 

He shook himself and asked the painter to turn the painting so 
that he could admire it in the last light of day. 

Romney did as he asked. 

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“You have surpassed yourself,” Warwick observed after a moment’s 
silence. “This is the soul of the American hero.” 

The painter bowed reverently and took his leave. He would come 
back the next day for the last retouches. 

When he had gone, Warwick noticed Joseph’s puzzlement as he 
looked at the painting. 

“Do you think he was lying?” 

The Indian looked at him. 

“I don’t think I’m myself’ he said, pointing at the picture. “This 
man is white, like you.” 

The man in the portrait was an unreal American, his skin and 
his features those of a European. His eyes alone, vivid as flames, 
belonged to Joseph Brant. 

“On the contrary, sir. The artist has captured the essence, the 
concept, the very idea that you embody.” Rapt, Warwick brought 
a finger toward the canvas. “You see? Beneath the clothes of the 
Indian chief the gentleman appears. Nobility is not the prerogative 
of our old world: there is something older, something primitive, 
something that doesn’t depend on coats of arms. It is the nobility 
of the soul, the old power that belonged to the Athenians and the 
Spartans, and which may be seen in this face.” He turned to look at 
Joseph. “In you.” 

He made a bow, which Joseph returned. 

“In a few days you will leave,” the Earl went on. “At least I will 
have a tangible sign that you have been between these walls.” 

“Perhaps when the war is over and the alliance between our 
nations is consolidated, perhaps then we will see each other again,” 
said Joseph. 

“Perhaps,” the Earl remarked bitterly. “Or perhaps we will have 
changed too much to remember what we are now.” He shook oft the 
cloak of gloom that had enveloped him and pulled himself together. 
“I believe it is customary for a warrior to give the tools of his trade as 
presents.” He walked over to a cabinet and took from it a long, narrow 
wooden box. He lifted the lid so that Joseph could see the contents. 

Two pistols with inlaid handles lay on a green velvet cloth. 

“They were used only once, by my uncle, in a duel. The family 
honor was defended by an accurate shot that is still spoken of at 
family reunions.” He smiled. “I’m sure you will make a better use of 
them than I could.” 

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Joseph accepted the gift. He caressed the pistols, took them in his 
hand, weighed them. 

“When I shoot at the king’s enemies, it will be as if you are the 
one spitting fire.” 

“Fortunately not,” said the Earl. “My aim is not a match for that 
of my late lamented uncle. I couldn’t hit a cow if it came in through 
that door. But thanks for the compliment.” 

Joseph didn’t know what to add. He glanced once more at his 
double, who studied the scene from his position on the easel, then 
he vigorously shook the Earl’s hand. 

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30 . 

When her father released her from his hug, Esther felt herself 
growing suddenly cold. Once more he was leaving her behind, as he 
had in Oswego. 

She watched him hugging Aunt Nancy and shaking hands with 
Uncle Daniel, who was staying in London to wait for his own 
appointment. He would remain with them until it was time for 
them to go back to America, once the war was over. Her father was 
preparing to leave, and she felt nothing. Once that fat, nervous man 
had inspired her with reverence and affection. 

She watched her father saying good-bye to Peter. Her cousin was 
wearing a red uniform; he had become a soldier of the king. He, 
too, would leave for America, but later, with the army, to fight the 
rebels. Then Peter received a hug from Joseph Brant, who spoke to 
him in their language, with a serious expression but in an intimate, 
fatherly voice. 

The servants finished loading the luggage into the diligence. 
Someone said it was time to go. The ships awaited them in 

Although it was June, it was cold at that time of the morning. 
The sun had not yet appeared over the rooftops and a breeze swept 
gently over the lower half of the world. Esther wrapped herself 
tightly in her fur and felt a tickle at the base of her neck, which made 
her turn around. 

Philip Lacroix was there. The girl instinctively touched the 
bracelet that he had given her in the woodshed. She wore it under 
the sleeve of her dress. 

In her mind she asked him to take her back. Not to leave her in 
this dark, foggy city. She asked him as her guardian angel, not as the 
Great Devil. 

She walked over to him. “So we won’t be seeing each other again, 
will we?” 

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Philip looked into the distance, beyond the diligence, beyond the 
street and the port. Esther waited for him to examine the future. 
She hoped he could contradict her. 

“If we do, I’ll be happy,” he replied, before climbing onto the box 
beside the driver. 

Esther’s feet were chained; her legs were made of stone. She burst 
into tears. The diligence set oft. Her father was still waving from the 
window, but she didn’t see him. 

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31 . 

The regiment was the biggest human formation that could be 
commanded by the human voice. The war would be music. 

Peter marched and marched, thrusting out his chest, listening 
to the drums and bagpipes accompanying the movements on the 
parade ground. The first few days had been exhausting: bearing the 
regimental standard called for strength and self-negation. But with 
the passing days his body had grown used to it and his resilience as a 
young man of the woods was further strengthened. 

Each company had one or two drums, and one or two bagpipes. 
Slow March, Quick March, Strathspey, Reel: when several com- 
panies came together, their musicians united to beat time to the 
steps and ease the men’s weariness. The music strengthened their 
legs, relaxed their stiff arms, banished thoughts from their minds. 

It was magnificent. Peter thought he could march forever. 

Once the day’s orders had been carried out, the troop wandered the 
streets of the city in search of beer. Before dinnertime, drummers 
and pipers marched through to tell the shopkeepers it was time to 
close up. Peter returned to camp awash with beer but still hungry for 
food. Sometimes he found himself in the arms of a camp follower, 
but never again did he feel what he had felt with the fairy of the 
Tower of London. 

Music began his days and accompanied them — and brought 
them to an end, at least until someone complained. After dinner, 
there was time to exercise his fingers and let his mind fly. 

“What’s that march called, boy?” 

Sergeant Bunyan had poked his head into the tent without asking 
permission. He was a stout man, advanced in years, crammed into 
his lobster-colored uniform. Peter set his violin down and turned 
coldly toward the intruder. 

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“An Faire, sergeant. It’s a double jig. And please don’t call me boy.” 

“Of course, forgive me. It’s because you look so young, Mr. 
Johnson. The age of a drummer boy, more or less. I didn’t mean to 
show a lack of respect.” 

Peter saw that the man was speaking in good faith. He decided he 
liked the lined face. “I accept your apologies, sir.” 

The sergeant’s face opened up into a smile, a wider wrinkle among 
the others that furrowed his face. “Thank you, and I have a request, if 
it isn’t too impudent: couldn’t you play some good Scottish music?” 

Peter smiled. “Sir, good Scottish music is Irish music.” 

The sergeant smiled in turn and took his leave. There were no flies 
on this boy. 

It had been one of Sir William’s favorite sayings. “Good Scottish 
music is Irish music.” And also: “The most notable Scottish families 
all have Irish blood.” 

Sir William had been proud of his origins. 

He had also been proud of being Warraghiyaghey. And of serving 
the Crown. He knew only too well what some people thought 
of the Irish, of their dubious loyalty. He also knew that the Scots 
weren’t seen in a much different light. In Tondon he had heard that 
the most visible Scots had formed a lobby that controlled the king. 
Tondoners called these rumors “politics.” But Sir William always 
said that Britain’s strength lay in the fact that it was the United 
Kingdom: time would reveal who its best and most loyal subjects 

The bow set the violin strings vibrating. An Faire. His father’s 
favorite music, played on the new violin given to him by his mother. 
There had been a time when he hadn’t liked playing this music, 
thought it was for old people. But now the simple five-note scales 
and the dance rhythms that he had heard a thousand times in 
childhood often emerged from the strings of his violin as if rising 
from the strings of his soul. 

Tonging for his mother: difficult for a soldier to admit, but not 
for a young Mohawk. Tonging for Sir William, too. For Johnson 
Hall and the forests. 

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32 . 

The story had been told by Gwenda, a Soho Square blowen who 
always called in at One-Eye’s for a bit of Dutch courage before going 
on the attack. 

It had happened the evening before, right underneath her 

She’d been standing at the window, clocking the movements of 
all the rafters and strutters, because since the Mohock invasion the 
pelfed-up jaspers kept their distance, earnings were tight and she 
had to resort to the filthiest scum in Soho. 

With a bang from the other side of the square this sedan appears, 
with these jaspers inside you can hear singing and them dressed to 
the nines, all cloaks and white gloves, butter wouldn’t melt, as if 
they’re in Vauxhall for tea. 

She’d got her mumbles out, sat them on the ledge and started 
rumbling out some dirty song, one of those ones you hear them it 
puts you in the mood. She’s just launched off when her voice and 
everyone else’s is joined by a third, a screech of stuck beasts, and 
suddenly a quadrille as bare as Adam bursts out of the square, with 
bows and arrows and all the gear of the Indian year. Them in the 
sedan leap out; them carrying it drops it and seeks hiding places in a 
dark alley, with the Indians right on their heels. 

At this point, from Gwenda’s window you can’t see a thing 
anymore, just two molls appearing out of upstairs windows in the 
hovels along the way, one of them pouring swill from a tub, the 
other chucking who knows what, but right away you hear the amens 
of them as seems to be gulping it up down below. 

After ten good minutes of everyone yelling and dancing about, the 
alley spews them back out, in a row like soldiers, the two chairmen 
at the front, then four naked men who must be the Indians, but 
now they’ve got their rugs in a bag and a net over them holding 
them together, and behind them come another five or six, strutters 

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2 9 2 


who’d passed by under Gwenda’s window, and one fired at her and 
she recognized him, it’s like he’s the boss who cashes in the sawdust 
with a gang drawn from the sewers. 

So the Indian year lasted only six months, thought One-Eyed 
Fred. The Emperor and his hooligans ended up in the navy — maybe 
they were sent to the colonies, to scrap with the real Indians. The 
savages of London were too base to form a nation, but fake enough 
to put on a uniform. The opposite of the ones on the other side of 
the ocean. Base enough to serve in the army but not too fake to. . . 
oh, you know, the opposite. 

One-Eye realized the tavern was his again, and this time, if he 
didn’t want to give it to the first cunt who came along, he would 
have to have a good think. Certainly, the first cunt who came in 
with four armed and stinking thugs would turn the place upside 
down. The main thing was to keep them out. If there was something 
those shitbrains had taught him, it was the phrase that the Emperor 
repeated most often. 

Fear is the soul of trade. 

Byway of a start, a sign. One-Eye’s Tavern, perhaps, to make things 
clear from the outset. No, of course not, One-Eyed Fred might have 
scared a child, but no one else. So what about the Emperor’s Tavern, 
as if to remind you that the Emperor might come back sooner or 
later. The priests had been keeping the faithful down for centuries 
with that kind of rubbish, so why shouldn’t it work for him, in those 
head-splitting years still left to him? If fear was the soul of trade, 
trade had a lot to learn from the Church of Christ. 

The Mohock Tavern, that was good, or the Scalp Inn, that was 
it, because that lunatic the Emperor had let him keep it, Dread 
Jack’s scalp, and you never know, now things were looking up, he 
could hang it on the wall behind the bar, beneath a pair of crossed 
hatchets, where he kept the charcoal portrait they’d done of him 
when he was quodded. Maybe with the Indian tavern he could go 
on serving up that disgusting swill of gin, mint and molasses that 
the Emperor was always glugging down him, and his thugs had 
to glug it too because he said it was his grandad’s favorite tipple, 
him and all the other Indians who had come to see Queen Anne, 
before the krauts took her throne oft her. And the swill was a good 
idea as well, to remind people that there, in One-Eye’s Tavern, or 
the Scalp, the Seventh Nation still met up, pretending that the 

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2 93 

Emperor was coming back from America with beaver skins and 
strumpets for all. 

Twenty gallons of mint syrup. If he managed to shift it all before 
the worms got into it, he’d have the words tattooed on his arse: 

Fear is the soul of trade. 

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The Return 

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No trace of the Lord Hyde. Joseph and Lacroix’s brigantine had been 
separated from the convoy during the storm. Guy Johnson studied 
the horizon, hoping to see its masts appear. 

Before the tempest, tedium and weariness had gone with them 
like a two-headed shadow. The tedium was a legacy of London; the 
weariness, perhaps, was an anticipation of ordeals to come. Days 
and days of sea voyage, strolls on deck to stretch the legs, distracted 
reading, visits to the other ships, revolting food. 

The smell that rose from the hold and the cabins was an offence 
to the nostrils. Guy felt homesick for bear grease. 

He leaned against the wall. The waves were long and dizzying. He 
had been advised to look into the distance, at a point on the horizon, 
or else he would give up his soul to the abyss, one vomit at a time. 

The way to America. A wake of rubbish jettisoned from the deck, 
a trail of shit and vomit. 

He felt like the machine-man in those French books he had 
flicked through in London. Needing oil in all his joints. The statue- 
man, linked to the outside world by a tunnel of senses, hidden inside 
a mass of inert matter. 

Guy Johnson knew that his frame was too slender to sustain the 
weight of excessive flesh and fat. And if to flesh and fat were added 
the weight of worry and responsibility, then the body collapsed like 
a house of cards or a rotten tree struck by lightning. 

Beyond the horizon, to keep from throwing up. Beyond the 
horizon, where Mars stalked the earth. 

He could feel that his tedium and weariness covered something 

Fear. Daughter of uncertainty, but also of self-consciousness. 
He thought of Esther and the children. He thought of his male 
firstborn, whom he would never call by name. He thought of his 
wife’s shade. 

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He thought of all that he had already lost, and all that he still 
risked losing. 

The thin, dark line was not the American coast, but the island 
of Bermuda. Captain Silas’s announcement was received with a 
string of clench-toothed curses followed by hocking and spitting, 
a reaction of disgust for the adverse wind that had dragged them 
southward. The storm in the middle of the Atlantic had parted them 
from the rest of the convoy, then driven them six hundred miles oft 
their route. But they were afloat. They were alive. They just had to 
roll up their sleeves. 

The sea is treacherous, Philip thought as he listened to the captain 
speaking. You can’t rest your feet on it, you’re suspended over the 
abyss, a hostage to the elements. You slide over the sea. And when 
the wind wrinkles the surface, the plain becomes a mountain, then 
an avalanche that rolls you like a marble. 

Monsters rise up from the deep. The Satanic Teviathan of 
the Scriptures came from the ocean, and so did the serpents that 
devoured Taocoon and his sons. 

The sea is treacherous and infernal. Dying at sea means not having 
a grave, a resting place. 

And yet the ocean had restored the color to his face. The pallor 
of London belonged to the past: after the tempest, the sky had 
opened up above the ship, dense blue criss-crossed with very high 

Being able to see a long way, getting one’s eyes used to the open 
spaces after the confinement of the capital, meant trying to remove 
the veil that covered the days to come. Thoughts of what would be 
helped him to master his sense of the past, the distant past and the 
most recent. 

Since they had been at sea he had spurned Joseph’s attempts at 
conversation, speaking only a few words :yes, no, perhaps. 

But now they were side by side again, leaning against the wall. 

“What are you thinking about?” asked Joseph. 

A shadow crossed Philip’s face. 

“Two London palaces could contain the whole of our people. If 
something went wrong, the name of the Mohawks would be lost 

Joseph’s face grew hard and resolute. 

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2 99 

“I’ll manage to persuade the Longhouse. The king’s army is vast; 
the men who will take up arms for him cannot be counted. We will 

Philip didn’t reply, distracted by something outlined in the 

A sail. 

The two Indians watched a mystery unfold before their eyes. 

“It doesn’t look like a ship from the convoy,” said Joseph. 

Philip shook his head. Perhaps it was coming from the islands. In 
the distance, it was just possible to make out the name carved into 
the prow. Argos, he thought he could read. Joseph knew nothing 
about big ships, but he had been a boatman long enough to notice 
that its draught was very shallow. No cargo. It was lighter and faster 
than the Lord Hyde and coming toward them at great speed. 

A shout came from the mainmast. 

“They’re taking the wind out of our sails!” 

With an abrupt maneuver, the brigantine had slipped into their 
wake. Joseph heard their sails deflating, a sound like an emptied 
sack. Then a far-off bang and a column of water shot up in front of 
their prow, showering the deck as it fell. 

Captain Silas cried out. The men were running everywhere, 
weapons raised. 

Joseph turned toward Philip. He was already loading his rifle. 

A second cannon ball tore into their sails. Silas ordered the men 
to prepare to fire. The sailors swung the ship’s broadside to the enemy 
and aimed their cannons. The pirate ship responded with a risky 
ploy: drawing level and close to the Lord Hyde, to prevent them 
from using their guns. The two sides now lay a few yards apart, and 
the sailors shot at the pirates from behind the walls, using anything 
they had, firing iron marbles, nails from slingshots. 

A voice called out, “Surrender to the United States of America! 
Hand over your ship and its cargo!” 

At the same time, th e Argos tried to cross the Lord Hyde’s bows. 
The helmsman of the Hyde, hampered b the damage to their sails, 
did what he could to prevent a collision. The two ships were 
aligned now, so close that they were touching. The rifle salvo went 
off first, then the pirate flung its grappling-irons, which the crew 
of the Lord Hyde hurried to unhook or cut, covered by fire from 
their gunners. 

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Joseph and Philip aimed at the figures visible on the poop deck 
and fired in unison. 

Then the smoke grew too thick, obscuring their target. The men 
waited, resting their rifle-barrels on the parapet. 

Joseph thought how sad it would be to die there in the middle 
of the sea. Not to see his home again. The children. Susanna. That 
wasn’t how he meant to fulfill his destiny. 

If he couldn’t resist the will of God, at least he would put up a 
fierce struggle. 

He murmured a prayer. 

The echoes of the explosions, the cries began to fade away. 

Silence fell upon the space beyond the walls. Water lapping, a 
breath of wind. The dark outline of the privateer could be glimpsed 
receding into the distance. The Lord Hyde had successfully repelled 

Triumphant insults flew after them, but they were out of range. 
The bosun reestablished order with pushes and kicks, moving 
through the stench of shit and gunpowder. 

“United States of America,” thought Philip. 

Teviathan had reached them in the middle of the ocean. 

He saw Joseph approaching, still clutching his rifle. He 
understood that the nearness of death had banished fear. His face 
bore the resoluteness of a king of Israel. 

No dream could have told him what awaited them on dry land. 

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Part Three 

Cold, Cold Heart 

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1 . 

The Liberty Pole stood tall, pointing straight at the sky. The birch 
trunk had been raised once more, with the greatest care, with chants, 
dances, and renewed dedications. The oath had run from mouth to 
mouth: their pole would not be toppled by any loyalist property 
owner. The banner of Congress fluttered, red as the blood of the 
first martyrs. It was said that another banner fluttered elsewhere, 
but no one in the valley had seen it as yet. 

Cotton-wool clouds drifted across the sky; the heat was 

Militia colonel Nicholas Herkimer sat down and fanned himself 
with a white handkerchief. A crowd of patriots, a new people in 
the making, filled the square in front of the church. Many of them 
seemed impatient. Since JohnJohnson and his mercenaries had left, 
the militia and the committee for public safety had been in control 
of this area of the valley. The days of fear seemed to be over, or rather, 
they were still there, but for the other faction, in a perfect reversal. 

Herkimer had been a captain during the Franco-Indian War; he 
had always done his duty by the colony. For that very reason he had 
found himself on the right side. His motives were ideal rather than 
concrete. The subjects of the English monarch had been the envy of 
Europe for their freedom. For years, however, George III had been 
behaving like a tyrant, imposing scandalous taxes and humiliating 
duties on the American colonies and contemptuously disregarding 
their requests for representation in the government. Consequently, 
his “subjects” were nothing of the sort. They were no longer under 
any obligations. The document that he held in his hands proved as 

This was a copy of the declaration formulated by Congress a short 
time before. From the moment of its publication they had ceased to 
be subjects. They were citizens, and the colonies were a new Athens, 
or a new Republican Rome. The proud English Tarquin could no 

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longer govern their lives. The new Darius, arriving with a doomed 
army, would meet his Marathon. 

Now it was a matter of explaining it, or rather, translating it to the 
throng. Since most of them were German and Dutch immigrants, 
English was a language they only half knew. Herkimer hoped he 
would be up to expressing these lofty concepts in the local Mohawk 
Dutch, a mixture of Dutch, English and German pronounced in 
a manner incomprehensible to outsiders. He looked around and 
wondered whether the majority would understand, even with the 
best possible translation. 

Once more, Herkimer couldn’t help thinking that all the 
problems in the valley had to do with an absence. Sir William: he 
had known him well, they had fought together, and no one could 
persuade him that a man like that would have turned his back on 
the call for freedom that was rising up from the whole colony. In the 
time of the Stamp Act, just two years after the end of the Franco- 
Indian War, Sir William had not spoken out against the Whig 
requests. He had merely declared that those arguments risked being 
put forward improperly. Over the years that followed he had always 
made formal acts of submission to the Crown; in his position he 
could hardly have done otherwise. But he died before the situation 
came to a head, before the motherland began to violate and frustrate 
the legitimate requests of the colonies. What other patriots said — 
that Sir William would have been on their side — was perhaps 
excessive. Certainly, however, he would have been intelligent and 
long-sighted enough not to side with a tyrant. 

His children, his heirs, his Indians had been much less lucid. They 
had been frightened. 

Herkimer surveyed the faces crowding the square. 

“My dear friends, I see with pleasure that we are all present. When 
the Tiberty Bell rang out its first chimes, we were certainly far fewer 
in number. We all clearly remember what happened the first time 
we raised this pole. Arrogance and abuse drove still more people to 
embrace our cause. And today we. . .” 

Remember? Raise? }ona.s Klug’s lips pursed in a puzzled grimace. He 
had heard it told a thousand times, the story of the pole. People 
like Rynard never missed an opportunity to puff up their feathers: 
“I was there.” As if saying, “You weren’t, you arrived afterward, you 

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woke up late, when less courage was needed.” A thousand times, and 
on none of those times had Nicholas Herkimer been mentioned. 
He too had woken up late, but none of the braver men dared to 
correct him, no, with him they were silent as stones. 

Meanwhile Herkimer went on explaining, saying something 
about independence, that the king no longer had any authority over 
the colony, that the citizens of the United States of America were 
free and had a right to happiness. 

Fine words, certainly, but not much substance. Far from free. You 
wanted to give a lesson to a puffed-up loyalist? Sorry, no individual 
initiatives, orders of Colonel Herkimer. You wanted to make the 
savages believe the tune had changed? Nothing to be done. If you 
went to Canajoharie, you had to go there unarmed. Herkimer had 
made that promise to the Indian witch, perhaps receiving a screwing 
in return, or then again perhaps not. When you’re filthy rich and 
you’ve got good land coming out of your ears, it isn’t all that difficult 
to act like a gentleman, to respect the enemy, give ground and do all 
that other official stuff'. 

The sermon ended with applause and hats being thrown in the 
air. When the hubbub had subsided, Klug cleared his throat and 

“There’s one thing that isn’t clear to me, Colonel. The savages who 
live in the free state of New York. Are they citizens too, or what?” 
“If by savages you mean the Indians, sir, then no, they aren’t, but 
they must decide whether they are friends or enemies of freedom.” 
“Excuse me, Colonel,” Klug replied, “but if they aren’t citizens, 
why are they allowed to live in our nation? If I buy a house and go to 
live in it, but find people inside when I get there, I make them move 
out, I make them clear off.” 

Klug’s words prompted a hum of approval. 

Herkimer gave a wave of his hand and retook the floor. 

“You forget that this a country of just men, sir, which takes as its 
model the greatness of Rome and Athens.” 

Athens ? Klug wondered. Never heard of it. Rome ? Wasn’t that 
where the pope lived? What did the pope have to do with the new 
nation? There were no papists among them, luckily enough. 

“The property and safety of the Indians will be protected unless 
they explicitly act against Congress and against the United States of 
America. Before our ancestors came here from Europe, they already 

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30 6 


inhabited this land. Our task is to civilize them, not to expropriate 

Klug gave a sign to indicate that he had nothing more to ask, but 
the reply had not satisfied him. 

The savages had been in America since the dawn of time, what 
a discovery. So had the squirrels, but no one had asked their 
permission before cutting down a forest and growing rye. Klug was 
more and more convinced: he had to get rid of the redskins once 
and for all. Sooner or later, some gentlemanly general with a passion 
for squaws would convince himself that the Indians had a right to 
happiness, too. And the Negroes. And the squirrels and the forests. 

If things went on like that, the United States of America would 
have a bear as ambassador, a Negro as a minister and Sister Squash 
with a seat in Congress. 

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2 . 

The wind commanded the army of flames. The wooden city was 
subjected to furious assaults, the very houses seemed to be fighting, 
struggling not to be taken by the fire, but the enemy was stronger 
and soon conquered them, set them alight, offered them in tribute 
to the night until they collapsed. All that remained were hills of ash. 

Peter had disembarked only the day before. From the Bronx he 
had come to Manhattan, just in time to see it burn. 

His Majesty’s army had occupied New York after the Battle of 
Long Island. Washingtons rebels had retreated in the fog, marching 
northward along the East River. Or maybe not: maybe they had 
transmuted themselves into flames. 

In the big meadow at the edge of the city, refugees with blackened 
faces contemplated the destruction. They had chosen not to flee, 
not to let New York become a city of ghosts, soldiers and desolation. 
This was their reward. 

The fire had been blazing for many hours. Now it was heading 
north and encountering no obstacles: the sky blazed, the color of 
bronze or pyrite, false gold. Impossible to tell that the sun was about 
to rise. 

Rumors circulated among the evacuees. Everyone blamed 
the rebels. The fire had started in an inn near Whitehall, at the 
southernmost tip of the island, and had spread north and west on 
the arid breath of Aeolus, destroying everything in its path between 
Broadway and the Hudson. The old Trinity Church no longer 
existed; the fire had consumed everything, including its magnificent 
organ, worth eight hundred and fifty pounds. 

Some people said that the fire had broken out in several different 
places and that at least one arsonist had been caught. He had 
brandished a knife and wounded a woman in the arm before being 
overpowered. His corpse, left hanging by its heels, must be ashes by 

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Had he been the one who had cut the handles oft the buckets? 
And emptied the water cisterns ? God knew how many people had 
conspired to start the fire. They had taken the city by surprise: there 
had been no bells to warn of the danger. The rebels had melted them 
to make bullets. 

As more refugees arrived, the stories grew richer and more 
intricate. The crowd had pushed other arsonists, all Whigs, into the 
flames that they had lit. Rumors of summary executions circulated. 
In the inferno that had been New York, the wind threw up embers 
that had once been men, judged guilty in a moment and shot, 
stoned, stabbed, trampled to death. 

The year before, from Tord Warwick’s panoramic drawing room, 
Peter had watched multicolored fireworks and not seen in them the 
staging of this great fire. He had had to cross the ocean again before 
he understood what those master pyrotechnicians from Italy had 
been alluding to: the beginning of a war that would spare no one. 
And now he was a soldier in that war. 

Shortly after setting foot on dry land he had tried to track Joseph 
down, but to no avail. He had boarded the ship they had directed 
him toward, but Joseph had left it a number of days earlier. Everyone 
remembered the Indian chief who had come from Tondon, but 
no one knew where he was. According to some, he had fought on 
Tong Island with General Howe’s men. According to others, he had 
arrived only in time to return with them to Manhattan, where he 
made sure that the rebel army had been routed. Gossip. His uncle 
left a trail of legends behind him, as if they slipped from his back, 
garments too big for him, too cumbersome. 

Before sunset, a navy official pointed out to him the ship where 
Guy Johnson was lodging. Peter took advantage of the little time left 
to him before the Cameronian gathering to climb on board. 

A familiar voice responded to the knocking on the door. 

“Who is it?” 

“Peter Johnson, sir.” 

The cabin door opened up, revealing the stout form of Guy Johnson. 

“My boy, when did you get here ?” 

“Yesterday morning.” 

They shook hands firmly. Peter noticed that Guy’s hand was 

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The superintendent ushered him in. There wasn’t much space, 
and most of it was occupied by trunks and cases. 

“What hell this is. You have no idea what’s been happening here. 
I asked to be taken back on board. At least one thing is certain: fire 
doesn’t cross water.” 

Guy moved a couple of bags and liberated a seat, which he offered 
to Peter. He sat down on the camp bed. 

“Do you think it was the rebels who started the fire?” the boy 

Guyjohnson shrugged. 

“That’s what they say.” 

He moved a nervous hand toward the open bottle on the table 
and filled two glasses. One of them he handed to Peter, who took it 
without moistening his lips. 

“I’ve been looking for my Uncle Joseph, but there’s no sign of 
him. Can you tell me anything?” 

“He isn’t in the city anymore,” Guy replied after gulping down 
the rum. “He left two weeks ago, heading for Oquaga, I think, to 
see his family. 

“Tacroix ?” 

“He left, too. Heading for Canajoharie. That’s all I know.” 
He poured himself another glass. “The colonies have declared 
independence. Everywhere inland is in chaos: bandits and raiders 
have taken over.” 

Peter set down his glass and looked out of the porthole. He could 
see a scrap of sky and the dark line of the buildings of the port in 
the haze. It was hot, and sweat gathered under his woolen jacket. He 
thought of the men traveling across hostile territory. He thought 
of his mother, who hadn’t heard news of him in months. Tacroix 
would reach her, he was sure of it. 

He stirred. Guy had asked him a question. 

“I’m sorry?” 

“I asked you about your regiment.” 

“We’ve gathered under the command of General Howe.” 

“Good. Very good.” 

Guy seemed to notice the boy’s uniform and stripes for the first 
time. He forced a smile. 

“And what are you going to do?” Peter asked. 

The other man’s face suddenly darkened. 

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“To be honest, I have no idea.” 

Guy got to his feet and looked outside, at the columns of smoke 
still rising to the north. 

“America is burning, my boy,” the superintendent said gravely. 
“Taming this fire is not going to be an easy business.” 

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Outside the general store there was not a living soul, just dust and sun- 
scorched tufts of grass. Five days before, the Graafs’ boat had unloaded 
its cargo, as it did every week. The goods had run out at midday. It had 
been like that for at least three months. Since the Albany rebels had 
taken control of the river, there wasn’t a single boat on the lower course 
of the Mohawk that escaped their attention. Mr. Graaf received special 
treatment, in the name of old relationships and remembered favors. His 
merchandise was the only cargo allowed to sail undisturbed beyond 
Fort Hunter, and hence the only cargo supplying the store. A few hours 
of haggling, negotiations, exchanges, rationing, and the bookings for 
the next cargo were already being taken. Rum, rye flour and pork were 
the first to go. But also ropes, ammunition, woolen blankets and knives: 
with the army besieging New York, Graaf s boat, too, might soon be left 
high and dry. Until then, its weekly arrival would go on recalling distant 
families, faces that had been seen in the village, once, perhaps, people 
who now lived many miles away, along the tributary valleys, beyond the 
ranges that closed off the horizon. 

Molly saw the strange woman crossing the square, and knew she 
wasn’t there to buy anything. She closed her accounts book, told 
Juba to get dinner ready, and came down the stairs. 

The woman introduced herself, said she had come from 
Schoharie, and in a few words explained the reason for her visit. The 
marks on her daughter’s face had appeared that morning. After a 
night of fever and wailing, beneath the veil of tears and sweat, little 
pustules had covered her cheeks. Not too dense, but dense enough 
to leave no doubt. 

The last great battle against smallpox had been at least ten years 
ago, before the child had been born. 

Molly rummaged through the drawers of a massive piece of 
furniture, wrapped a handful of herbs in a scrap of fabric, and tied it 
twice with a piece of wire. 

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3 12 


“I can’t do much for your daughter,” she said to the woman, 
holding out the package. “Dr. Brennon left the valley this winter. 
He was the one who put the mark on our people, at the request 
of Sir William, ten years ago. I don’t know anyone else who knows 
how to perform the operation, and even if I did, the mark serves to 
keep the spotted disease far away, not to get rid of it once it’s there.” 

The woman received the news with resignation. The long journey 
had been a pointless exertion. 

“Forgive me, madam.” Juba’s voice broke the silence. “I know 
what you’re talking about. The lady is right, the mark doesn’t heal 
those who are already sick, but it can prevent many deaths. Juba can 
do it.” 

“You know how ?” 

The black woman nodded. 

“In my land it is done when the sickness comes. My father did 
it. You need the tip of a knife and a little of the liquid that is in the 

The first to receive the mark were Molly’s daughters. Over the next 
few days they had fever and vomited, but none of them developed 
the spots. 

The sick child was staying in a house outside the village. She was 
slightly ill, and the disease that Juba took from her pustules was 
strong enough to prepare the body for battle without killing it in the 
process. Molly sent messengers up and down the river, to the slopes 
of the Adirondacks and the Oneida villages on the shores of the 
Susquehanna. She herself went to talk to Nicholas Herkimer, who 
had been a good friend of Sir William and commanded the county’s 
rebel militia. She told him that in the course of a few weeks, during 
the period when the Graafs’ boat put in at the village, men and 
women from all over the valley would be coming to Canajoharie, in 
much greater numbers than usual. She said that nothing strange was 
going on, except that smallpox threatened the sons and daughters of 
the Mohawks and they had decided to defend themselves. Anyone 
who came down to the general store to sell or buy would be given 
the mark that keeps the spots away. 

Herkimer had often heard of the treatment that doctors called 
inoculation. The first time had been a few months before, when the 
redcoats had successfully defended Quebec, thanks to a smallpox 

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3 : 3 

epidemic that had broken out among the besieging rebels. It was said 
that His Majesty’s soldiers were all inoculated and that Washington 
wanted to spread the practice among his volunteers as well. 

The wind threw the first leaves to the ground, roaring in the 
branches, drowning out people’s voices. Outside the store was a 
crowd whose like had never been seen. 

Betsy, Molly’s older daughter, stood in the doorway checking 
whoever came in, studying faces and arms to stop anyone already a 
victim of the spots, saying no, the treatment was useful only to the 
healthy and not to the sick, in spite of rumors that had given many 
victims hope. 

Inside, the store’s usual gloom was relieved by two large lamps. 
Molly welcomed the people who came in, hurried through sales and 
barterings with them, then pointed to a chair and nodded to Juba 
to continue. The operation was a simple one. The tip of the knife 
scratched the skin, and a sip of rum revived the spirit. 

As a frightened old woman made herself comfortable on the chair 
and Molly sought to persuade her to accept the mark, the voices 
from outside suddenly exploded with excitement. It sounded like an 
argument, and Molly told herself that this was normal, that it had to 
happen sooner or later — a sick man who refused to be turned away, 
someone tired of waiting, or the usual drunk. 

She calmed the old woman and made for the door. 

Voices emerged from the uproar, but she didn’t have time to make 
them out, to assemble a scrap of meaning. 

Then she saw the familiar shadow framed in the door. 

Ronaterihonte was back in Canajoharie. 

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The general store was a graveyard of empty shelves and deflated 
sacks. Behind the clouded windows were the shadows of small boys 
attempting to peer through. Philip glanced at them and the little 
heads disappeared, but only for the blink of an eye. 

Molly sat with her hands in her lap, ready to hear any news, 
whatever it might be. 

“Many of you left and only one returns,” she said. “My heart is 

Philip let his weary limbs melt into the chair s embrace. 

“There is no reason for that. Your family is well, Molly Brant.” 

The woman heaved a sigh of relief. 

Philip pointed to the queue outside the store. 

“I can’t say the same about your people.” 

Molly nodded. 

“The smallpox has attacked the valley, but we have stopped it in 
time. You too will have to be marked. But first, tell me. Why are my 
son and my brother not with you?” 

Philip told her of Peter’s decision to join the English army, and of 
Joseph traveling toward Oquaga to meet his family. He also told her 
about Daniel Claus, left behind in England, and of Guy Johnson, 
staying in New York. 

“So the company has split up,” Molly observed. 

Philip didn’t say anything. 

“Things aren’t going well,” Molly went on, shaking her head. “I 
know of no treatment for the epidemic of rebellion. The settlers 
have declared their independence from the Empire, and their 
militias are growing by the day. Many people are joining, even 
people we would not have expected to have as enemies.” Her face 
darkened. “Then there are those, like Jonas Klug, who have been 
waiting for an opportunity like this for some time. The forest is no 
longer safe, the river isn’t safe, nowhere is. Even Johnson Hall has 

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3 y 

fallen into the hands of the militia. It happened in May. Sir John had 
to seek refuge in Canada. He left his wife here with their little son 
and another in the womb, along with an escort. A few days later the 
militia surrounded the house. They took Sir John’s wife and son, and 
they’re now prisoners in Albany. They also took away John Butler’s 
wife and children.” 

She stopped speaking, her sad eyes fixed on the floor. She forced 
herself to look up. Then she seemed to recall something she had 
been storing up for some time. 

“What is the king of the English like ?” she asked. 

She seemed genuinely curious to know. 

“A man who lives far from his people,” Philip replied. “In a palace 
as big as a baggataway field.” 

Molly put her hands together and sat back in her chair. 

“You want me to listen. Speak sincerely.” 

“We cannot win, Molly,” said Philip. “You can stop their 
sicknesses, but not the contagion that they bear in their souls. The 
white men will destroy us as they destroy themselves. It makes no 
difference what flag they fly. They are a whirlpool that spreads and 
swallows everything up.” 

This time Molly’s sigh was serious and long. 

“Men think of defeat as of the sun going out, the world ending. 
Women know that’s not how it is.” 

Philip turned around: the figures of the children darted away, 
and he caught a glimmer of smiles as they vanished. 

“We will do what needs to be done,” Molly went on. “If war is 
what awaits us, we will confront it, as we already have done. Blood 
will be spilled, but I tell you that the People of the Flint will not die, 
if their sons do not deny them.” She got to her feet and rested a hand 
on his shoulder. “You are back. It is good to have you here again, 
Ronaterihonte. You will help us to survive the winter.” 

“Is that why you called me back? So that I can be with you at the 
hour of your sunset ?” 

Molly’s face remained impassive. 

“I called you because every circle is closing. What this means for 
each of us we cannot know from the start.” 

Philip rose. He felt a great affection for this woman, and knew 
that their hearts would be bound forever, until the day they died. He 
sought words to say so, but she stopped him. 

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V 6 


“On your journey something happened that you haven’t told 
me.” She gave him a sidelong glance as she bent to poke the fire. 
“Your wampum of adoption is not around your wrist.” 

“I gave it to someone who needed good fortune.” 

The woman nodded again. 

“You are a generous man, Philip. The last time that bracelet 
passed from one hand to another it wove two destinies together.” 
Philip saw himself as a child again, a little drummer boy under 
the butcher’s knife. 

He nodded good-bye and went back to the inoculation room, 
lifting the sleeve of his shirt. 

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The breathing of the forest was like the crying of ghosts. Joseph 
had been walking for weeks, alone, dressed as a huntsman, wearing 
nothing Indian that could betray his origins. Step by step, his sense 
of danger mounted, grew in his belly, weighed down his limbs more 
than their load of arms and provisions. His muscles contracted in 
painful knots, and his breathing was quick and heavy. The paths to 
Oquaga formed a single, interminable climb. 

A bear had been crossing his path for days: he had heard it in his 
half sleep, he had seen its marks on the trunks of the pine trees, claw 
marks left as a kind of signature. It was the enemy’s orenda, hatred 
transformed into fangs and claws. 

The creature’s presence was apparent all around; at times he felt 
he could even pick up its scent. The bear was following a trail, for 
sometimes bears anticipate a man’s journey. Joseph expected to see 
it moving through the undergrowth. 

In fact the bear, a solitary creature, was the least serious threat that 
walked those woods. The most dangerous of beasts moved in groups, 
without precaution, leaving obvious traces, as if afraid of nothing, as 
if defying fate: white men, Whig militias, rebels, raiders in search of 
booty. They felt they were the masters of the Indian lands, and they 
felt they were safe in them: the breathing of the forest was a chorus 
they could not hear. Voices of ancestors, past generations, flesh that 
was now worms and food for animals, hordes of men decimated 
by smallpox and the wars fought on behalf of distant allies. Those 
woods, Joseph thought, still belonged to the Indians. They would 
repel the strangers just as the body, with a good medicine, chases 
illness away. That land guarded the bones of the forefathers, and 
Joseph’s forefathers had been loyal to the Crown: the medicine that 
would restore the land to health was the king’s army. 

Joseph Brant had been brought up to love the English. Now that 
the rebels insisted on being called Americans, he felt relieved. 

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3 j 8 


The damp impregnated his clothes. He consumed his food in 
haste, he marched without stopping, exhaustion dragged at his legs 
and weighed on his chest. Joseph stopped to drink and catch his 
breath, leaning on his rifle. A flight of birds rustled the branches of 
the pines. 

He had to move quickly, beyond the edge of human capacity. The 
world was a dangerous place. 

He had to reach his destination. Oquaga and Unadilla were 
friendly villages, home to dozens of his relatives, close and not so 
close. Salvation would come from there. 

He had to get back to his mother, his wife, his children. Took 
his flesh and blood in the face, see the living, concrete aspect of the 
ideal for which he had chosen to fight. If he distinguished himself in 
that war, people like Klug would not be able to get their predatory 
hands on the Mohawks’ belongings. His mother would die in peace, 
and Mohawk land would guard her bones. 

Joseph thought of his people. Since the days of his childhood 
many more Mohawks had died than were alive today. Philip was 
right: two Tondon palaces could have contained the whole of the 
People of the Flint. 

It was evening now: the orange light of the sun filtered through 
the branches. The days to come promised to be as dark as his march 
through the depths of the forest. Joseph wished he had le Grand 
Diable by his side. 

The bear appeared suddenly, standing upright, cutting short the 
flow of his thoughts. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck, and 
Joseph aimed his rifle. The bear growled, turned its back on him and 
disappeared into the depths of the forest. 

Joseph ran the back of his hand over his brow. A little black bear, 
it had looked far from threatening. The eyes of the man and the eyes 
of the bear had met. Perhaps it wasn’t a bad omen; perhaps the bear 
was trying to tell him something, put him on the alert. He had to 
advance cautiously, take care to leave no traces, keep from resting 
until his nostrils caught the smells of home. 

They were many: they occupied the whole of the clearing. Joseph 
held his breath, hiding in the brambles that covered the hillside. 
Giving up bear grease had been a good idea. From that distance, if 
the wind had changed, the smell would have given his presence away. 

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There were plenty of Indians in the group. Joseph couldn’t tell what 
nation they belonged to. In the semi-darkness he couldn’t make out 
their features: they could have been Mingo, or Delaware, or even 
Oneida. They were about forty yards from him, and were speaking 
quietly. Not like the white men, who swapped noisy comments as 
they prepared their camp for the night. 

The encounter had dispelled the exhaustion in his limbs and 
brought fresh lucidity to his mind. Retreat without a sound, get 
away from the clearing, circle at a distance, return to the path many 
miles to the west. Joseph entrusted himself to divine mercy and 
started moving. 

He traveled the last stretch with the circumspection of a lynx. 
Closeness to home gave him strength. Soon the solitude of the 
journey would be behind him. Solitude, the saddest fate for a man, 
would be left behind in the belly of the forest. 

The dogs barked, but Joseph was calm. Soon they would recognize 
him, welcome him with their paws on his chest, try to wash his face 
with their tongues as they always did. The faint light of an oil lamp 
filtered through the loose planks that closed the window. 

The door opened, releasing a domestic atmosphere, liberating 
the smells of a peaceful life. A robust little boy came outside with a 
stick in his hand and turned toward the stranger as the dogs leaped, 
barking, around his legs. 

“Who’s there?” 

Joseph smiled, but his voice sounded dark and severe. 

“Don’t you recognize your father, Isaac?” 

The boy stood silent. 

The tension of the journey melted away in Susanna’s embrace. 
Joseph smelled the perfume of her hair and felt her hot breath on 
his shoulder. His wife stroked his face, as if to make sure that it was 
really him. Her fingers brushed wrinkles and scars, ran along his 
profile, in a slow sequence of touches and caresses. 


He was too tired even to speak. He abandoned the sack on the 
floor and collapsed into an old chair. Christina tottered over to 
her father, who picked her up and set her on his lap. The little girl 
hid her face in his chest. Isaac was still staring at him, his features 
screwed up enigmatically. 

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3 2 ° 


Susanna hurried to bring hot food. Joseph’s eyes met his mother s. 
The old woman was sitting in the furthest corner of the room, 
wrapped in a blue blanket. 

“How many French scalps did you bring, Joseph?” 

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6 . 

He came outside, taking his bearings in the still faint light that had 
filtered through the windows. He felt a need for clean, open air. Air 
wet with dew and imminent rain. Low clouds, bloated as oilskins, 
thundered close by. The dog welcomed him back to the courtyard 
with a yelp of joy. Joseph stroked its head. He lifted the bucket from 
the well to drink and wash away the sleep from his face. The icy 
water reinvigorated him, running down his neck and under his 
shirt. The buildings of the village were dark masses just starting to 
take shape. The river ran calmly not far away. The fires of war did not 
lick at Oquaga. At least not yet. 

Turning around to go back in, he noticed a figure at the edge of 
the vegetable garden. He froze, then recognized his mother, her 
white hair ruffled by the breeze. 

“Margaret,” he called to her quietly, so as not to frighten her. 
“Margaret, what are you doing here?” 

The old woman sniffed the air. She must have got out of bed 
without Susanna noticing. 

“Do you smell it?” 

Joseph sniffed, but recognized nothing that didn’t belong to the 
woods or the cultivated fields. 

“What, Margaret?” 

She took another deep breath. 

“The smell of carrion,” she said. “It’s carried on the east wind, 
along with the rain.” 

Joseph couldn’t smell a thing. 

“You should go back inside before you catch your death.” 

The old woman turned to look at him. 

“You’ve come back, Joseph.” 

“I’m back.” 

“So why don’t you bring me back home ?” 

“Soon, Margaret. For now it’s dangerous. We must wait.” 

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3 22 

“Are you sure ?” 

“Yes, Margaret.” 

“It smells of carrion here.” 

“That’ll go as soon as the wind changes.” 

The old woman shook her head. 

“It’s the white men,” she wrinkled her nose. “They won’t go.” 

She let him escort her into the house. Susanna had gone out to 
look for her and as soon as she saw them in the doorway she hurried 
to bring the old woman back upstairs. 

Joseph sat down by the blackened fireplace. The embers glowed 
faintly under the ashes. He took the bellows and started bringing 
them back to life. 

Soon afterward Susanna went back downstairs and put some 
water on to boil for tea. Joseph became aware of the density of 
her thoughts, the questions she had been brooding over since the 
previous evening, when she had seen him arriving, filthy from his 
journey through the forest. 

“I must leave again soon,” he said. 

“Isaac and Christina are growing up without a father. Isaac in 
particular needs you to guide him. He needs to learn and grow.” 
“He also needs a place where that is possible,” Joseph replied. “He 
must know that his father will fight for him and for the Mohawks.” 
Susanna couldn’t lift her eyes from the teapot. 

“I’m living like a widow.” 

Joseph got up and walked over to her. 

“The time will come to stop and set down our weapons,” he said. 
She gripped the pot without pouring the tea. 


Joseph took the teapot from her and filled the cups. The dense 
perfume pricked their nostrils and aroused physical sensations that 
he hadn’t felt for weeks. 

“When we have won.” 

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7 . 

They arrived three days later. It still hadn’t stopped raining and the 
world was cloaked in grey. In the village streets you plunged up to 
your calves in mud, so that walking was a huge effort. People stayed 
at home, or in the stables looking after the animals. 

A little boy came to warn Joseph. For more than an hour the 
three men had been perched on the fence like crows. No one had 
worked out what they were waiting for. 

Bent under their tarpaulins, their tricorns wilting in the rain, 
they watched him approach without moving a muscle. Only Henry 
Hough stretched his tortoise neck every now and again, to spit 
lumps of tobacco into a puddle. 

Johnny Hough’s stupid face made a fine pair with Daniel Secord’s 
sharp one. 

When Joseph was very close they jumped down from the palisade 
and planted themselves in the mud. 

“Greetings, Joseph Brant,” said the oldest of the Houghs. 

He nodded to them. 

“We heard you were back,” the other man went on. “We’d almost 
given up hoping. They say when you were in England you met the king.” 

Joseph nodded. 

“Goddamn, so it wasn’t bullshit!” Johnny remarked. 

His brother struck him with his elbow. 

“Then perhaps you can satisfy my curiosity.” He pushed his face 
forward. “Is it true that His Majesty has nine children?” 

“The Queen was pregnant with the tenth.” 

Henry Hough nodded to himself. “A great nation, by God. Our 
monarch’s vigor is unequaled in the world.” 

“The king has sent troops,” said Joseph. “The counteroffensive is 

“He sent them to New York,” Secord said with a wink. “We 
haven’t seen hide nor hair of them here.” 

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3 2 4 


Joseph looked at him for a long time. Daniel still wore the Seneca 
amulets, but he was pale and emaciated. 

“Here the war is my task,” he said. “It’s why I came back.” 

Henry Hough’s neck stretched again. 

“Those are the words we wanted to hear. God bless you, Joseph 
Brant, and bless King George as well. When do we start?” 

“When we’re ready.” 

“The list is already a long one,” said Johnny. This time his brother 
didn’t shut him up. “From Unadilla to here we’ve counted at least 
five traitor farms.” 

Three pairs of eyes fixed themselves on the Indian. 

Joseph knew that from that moment every word he uttered would 
have a different weight. He was prepared; his two-month stay in 
New York had given him time to think and come up with a plan. 

“We need gunpowder, ammunition, provisions, money.” He saw 
them nodding. “And men willing to fight.” 

“We can rustle up some pretty good men,” said Hough. 
“Committed loyalists.” 

“Determined people,” Secord added. 

“Do it. I’ll go to Fort Niagara to get what we need. I’ll ask for 
support from the Six Nations. The rendezvous is here for the start 
of the spring.” 

Henry Hough faked a coughing fit. 

“Speaking with respect, Joseph Brant. There are four of us, which 
isn’t many for the task at hand.” 

“We’re more than enough, if we spread the news.” 

“What news?” asked Johnny. 

Joseph looked him up and down with the scowl of an officer 
inspecting a subordinate. 

“That Chief Joseph Brant will fight the Albany rebels in the name 
of the King. And that he won’t stop until he has defeated them.” 

An avid sneer appeared on the faces of the three men. 

Isaac felt himself being gripped by the collar and started wriggling 
like an animal on a lead. Susanna held him back. He had run out 
of hiding to reach the central square of the village, where all the 
inhabitants were assembling. Instead of hiding, he had stayed to 
watch them: elders wrapped in their tribal blankets, young men in 
worn woolen jackets and misshapen hats, Oneida children peering 

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3 2 5 

between the legs of the adults. Someone had thrown planks into 
the square, so that they could walk without sinking into the mud. 
His father clutched his walking stick, holding it aloft, to call for 
silence. Next to him, but some distance away, there were those three 
men. Isaac had immediately worked out what they had come to do. 
They had come to get his father and take him away again. So he 
would be left on his own with the women again. Susanna, Christina, 
Grandma Margaret. 

His father started hoisting up the pole the flag he had brought 
from London. He had shown it to Isaac the night before, when Isaac 
had slipped outside, unable to get to sleep, drawn by the noises. He 
had found his father unfolding the piece of fabric with the double 
cross on it. 

“It’s the flag of the kingdom,” Joseph had said. “Your cousin Peter 
brought it for his regiment.” 

It was beautiful. Isaac had thought that when it was his turn to 
go to war he would paint his face those colors. Red, white and blue. 

The wind licked at the fabric and the flag gave a snap that rang 
in the air. 

His father spoke clearly: “This is the flag of the English King: 
you all know it. From today it is also the flag of Joseph Brant 
Thayendanegea. I will put down any attempt to bring it low. I will 
place under my command anyone willing to defend it. God save 
King George and the Six Iroquois Nations.” 

He drew his knife and carved into the wooden pole the symbol 
of his clan. 

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New York, 19 December 1776 

Dearest Mother 

I am able to write to you courtesy of Mr. Lorenz, gunsmith of 
Albany, who is leaving New York tomorrow to settle in Oswego, so 
that he need no longer sell his rifles to the enemies of the Crown. 

This is the third letter that I have been able to send you. I 
hope you received the others, so that I can spare you the news 
contained therein. Upon disembarking, I discovered that Mr. 
Lacroix had left a short time before to go to Canajoharie. I hope 
that he has reached the village, and that he has described to you 
everything about our stay in the city of London. 

For my part, I knew that Sir John had been forced to leave 
Johnson Hall in the hands of the Bostonians, who are now 
seeking Uncle Joseph and threatening to bring you to Albany 
so he will be forced to hand himself over. These events fill my 
heart with rage, and were it not for my duties as a soldier, I 
would do anything to be by your side and defend my brothers, 
our properties and my father’s grave. At the moment I am not 
doing anything interesting or useful and I would be very happy 
if His Majesty’s army would comply with the customs of our 
people, that is, fight a battle and then let the living return to their 
families, to hunting and trading. 

When he received me, King George, said he hoped to meet 
me again once I had reached the rank of general, and that wish 
contributed greatly to my decision to enlist. If one day the Lord 
wished to grant me that privilege, I would certainly be the first 
Mohawk general to command the troops of the realm and I 
believe that my father would be proud of his son, he who was 
Irish by birth and warrior chief of the Six Nations. 

When I think of that day, I imagine propagating among my 
subordinates some of the warrior habits of our people, meaning 

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3 2 7 

that it is not only the number of guns that makes the difference 
between two armies, but also the courage and skill of those who 
shoulder them. 

I took part in my first battle fighting with the Indian troops, in 
Fort St. Johns in Canada, and then again not far from Montreal. 
Now I have fought two more, in the red uniform and with the 
flag in my hand, in New York and White Plains. All ended 
with our victory, but while I could recount for you the first two 
moment by moment and recall in every gesture the warriors’ 
deeds, of the last I can tell you only: I held the banner high, and 
of my companions I know that they fired and nothing more. 
At a certain point they ordered me to return to the field, and if 
someone hadn’t told me that the enemy was in flight, I might still 
be wondering about the outcome of the battle. 

Neither do I know what our next destination will be. They say 
we are about to transfer, perhaps to Philadelphia, but it certainly 
won’t be established by a council, and none of us soldiers will be 
able to listen to the generals as they discuss what is to be done 
and take the decision. For that reason I cannot tell you where to 
write to me, if that is even possible, but I will try to do so as soon 
as possible, because I am very apprehensive and would be very 
happy to have your news as soon as possible. 

I have no time to add anything else but 

I remain always your 
most affectionate son 

P.S. Please pass on my affectionate wishes to Betsy, to all 
my brothers and sisters, and my greetings to my friends in 
Canajoharie. May Christmas bring you peace and good cheer. 

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Soon Ohsehrhon will come, the end of the year, the start of winter. 
At night, the Big Dipper will be high over our heads. We will wait 
for the first moon, we will pass five nights of sleep and the next 
morning we will start the ceremonies. We will thank the spirits: the 
plants and the animals, the wind, the sun, and the farthest stars. We 
will thank God. We will burn tobacco in the fire. The Big Heads will 
go from house to house poking the embers and reviving the fires. We 
will dance, and at night we will dream hard. Upon waking we will 
sacrifice a white dog, to confirm our loyalty to the spirits and the 
Master of Life. We will invent riddles and play at sharing dreams. 
Night will pass like a cloud carried by the wind, and on the third 
day we will dance dressed in feathers. On the fourth day we will 
chant: the guardians of the faith will start, then the sachems, then 
the matrons of the clan, all the others last. After the chants, we will 
give names to the children. The next day will be the day of drums. 
On the last day we will play with peach-nut dice, divided among the 
clans. We will amuse the Master of Life by challenging him, joking, 
betting. The team that wins will lead the final dance. Again we will 
speak and thank the spirits, and that is how the new year will begin. 

Molly knew what the new year would bring. War and hardship, 
loneliness. The dreams of the village went only in one direction. 
Apart from Ronaterihonte’s. He claimed not to dream, but 
everyone dreams. The warrior kept the truth silent with his mouth, 
while saying it with his eyes: he didn’t want to tell his own visions. 
Every day he lunched with Molly, then vanished like a shadow. Who 
knew where he passed his afternoons ? He certainly didn’t need to 
hide, for the Whigs never came to Canajoharie. It was Molly’s pact 
with Herkimer: Don’t challenge Sir William’s ghost again. Now you 
sleep in his house, walk on precious carpets in boots heavy with mud. 
You abuse his hospitality in every way. If my husband has not asked 
God for permission to come down and exterminate you, to return 

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3 2 9 

to Paradise loaded with scalps, it is because he knows that we, his 
people, will pay for it. The ghosts return to the beyond, the reprisal 
is carried out against the living. But if you importune his wife, the 
mother of his children, the mother of his son who has distinguished 
himself in the eyes of King George, not even the Master of Life will 
be able to restrain him. 

Molly knew it: Ronaterihonte was sleeping in Thayendanegea’s 
empty house. Beneath that roof, it would have been impossible to 
sleep without dreaming. 

The snow was a floor of ice, millions of scales of ice, millions of tiny 
reflections making up the white that assaulted the eyes. 

In the vigor of winter, the baggataway field turned into a track for 
gawasa, “snow snake,” a game common to all Indian nations to the 
east and north of the Great Lakes. Philip had played it as a boy, with 
the Caughnawagas from the mission. 

On the frozen snow, players took turns throwing a straight, 
smoothed stick shaped like a sleigh runner. The stick plunged to 
the ground and slipped quickly away. The winner was the one who 
made it travel farthest. 

He had been invited by Oronhyateka and Kanenonte, the two 
young warriors who had been in the Canadian expedition the 
previous year. They hadn’t seen the Great Devil for many moons, 
but they had given him a rather brusque welcome. Things were 
getting worse by the day, they had told him. As the most vicious 
of the white men besieged the nation, the warriors’ desire to fight 
was rotting on the chain, a slave to the prudence of the women and 
the sachems’ lack of resolution. Johannes Tekarihoga spent his days 
befuddled with rum. Because of his lineage, he was the only one of 
the general store’s customers exempt from the rationing. 

The Mohawks of Fort Hunter, for their part, were timid and 
insincere, always ready to reach an agreement with the enemy. If it 
were up to their sachem. Little Abraham, soon there wouldn’t be a 
nation to defend. 

Philip thought that when he was a youth he would never have 
spoken irreverently of a sachem. He was about to say so out loud, 
but Kanenonte cut him short. 

“We say harsh things, but it is because the young men’s hearts 
have hardened, and their muscles are as cold as this snow.” 

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33 ° 


“Our sachems are the children of days gone by,” added 
Oronhyateka. “Their footsteps were firm and fast in Hendrick’s day, 
but now they walk with a stick. War is for the young.” 

That was what Oronhyateka and Kanenonte thought, and 
they weren’t the only ones. Suspicion and anxiety filled the souls 
of the warriors of Canajoharie. They all described the Oneidas 
as untrustworthy and distant, silent and sly. They were certainly 
preparing something, enchanted as they were by that reverend of 
theirs, Samuel Kirkland, who supported the rebel settlers. Their 
sachem, Shononses, was a good speaker: his speeches were swarms 
of fluttering butterflies with wings of a thousand colors. 

“Butterflies don’t defend themselves,” Oronhyateka had said. 
“They don’t fight. Bees and hornets fight, but such insects are never 
on the lips of Shononses.” 

Kanenonte looked into the distance, narrowed his eyes and 
thought he could see, at the end of the level ground, the gawasa 
thrown by Oronhyateka. He picked up his own between his thumb 
and index finger, whirled it around and threw it. The wooden snake 
slipped over the whiteness. 

It was Oronhyateka who spoke next. “We must take up arms, 
Ronaterihonte. In Fort Hunter too there are healthy and brave 
warriors who can no longer bear sitting still. They would come with 
us if we set off'. They would come with le Grand Diable to attack the 
militia and free Johnson Hall. The enemy is numerous, but we can 
draw them into the forest and kill them one by one.” 

“And afterward?” Philip interrupted. “Reinforcements would 
come, from Albany or who knows where. People without scruples, 
not like Herkimer. Vengeance would be unleashed. They have 
women and children as hostages. Recklessness is a grave error. We 
must wait for spring, brothers. Wait for the return of Thayendanegea 
and, above all, a new council of the Six Nations.” 

The two young men said nothing. From the camp there came 
only the sounds of the game. 

Finally Kanenonte broke the silence: “Degonwadonti was wrong 
to warn Herkimer of the smallpox. The right thing would have been 
to bring the spots among the rebels, to destroy them. The white men 
did that, in times past. Why shouldn’t we do it, too?” 

Philip shivered. “Smallpox doesn’t seek allies. It doesn’t distinguish 
between its victims. If the disease had spread through the valley, 

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33 1 

it would have killed everyone, without enmity or friendship for 
anyone. Molly Brant stopped it. She warned the rebel commander 
so that she could heal our people without provoking a reaction.” 

They remained silent. The two young men went on throwing 
their sticks, until Kanenonte turned to Philip with a hiss and a half 

“Ronaterihonte, do you have to wait for Thayendanegea even 
when you’re playing gawasa? 

Philip picked up one of the sticks from the ground. He weighed 
it in his hand. He studied the blanket of snow, covering grass that 
would soon spring up again. At last he resolved to hurl the snake. 

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10 . 

The wedge-shaped battlements that protected the southwestern side 
of Fort Niagara were an arrow aimed at the colony of New York and 
the cities on the coast. The French, not to alarm the surrounding 
populations, had built it to look like a huge brick general store. In 
fact it was a fortress, one that was hard to conquer. The battlements 
were tall, the casemates full of cannon. 

Joseph passed by the tents and shacks that the refugees of the 
Mohawk Valley had built at the foot of the fortifications. Familiar faces, 
men and women who had set oft with him the previous year to fight in 
Canada. Now they depended upon His Majesty’s government and the 
benevolence of the garrison. His people had nowhere else to go. 

The parade ground had become a chaotic marketplace. People 
of all backgrounds and religions scrambled to get hold of the last 
available merchandise to make it through the winter. 

A wild-eyed old hunter was trying to sell furs to a group of Indians 
who were trying to ignore him: there was something mad about the 
man’s manners. The white man threw to the ground the furs whose 
praises he was singing and began to curse. The Indians stepped back, 
giving him a quizzical and anxious stare. 

A small group of men pushed their way through the crowd. They 
were Senecas, but had a young white man at their head. He bent 
down and picked up the fur. He examined it, handed it to one of the 
Indians and took some coins from his jacket pocket. “I’ll give you a 
good price — now get lost.” 

The hunter walked away, muttering. The young white man turned 
around: it was Walter, John Butler’s son. 

“God strike me dead: Joseph Brant! We knew you had come 
back; I was just wondering when we would see you again.” 

He came forward, surrounded by the squad that was escorting 
him. Under his jacket was a wampum necklace testifying to the 
friendship of the Senecas. A pair of pistols hung from his belt. 

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“How are you?” asked Joseph. 

“Well, I’d say. These are hard times, but with the help of the 
Senecas and the garrison we can maintain our hold in this 

The Senecas stared at Josephs family without making any gestures 
of welcome. One of the men spoke, using the Onondaga language 
so that all those present could understand. 

“So you are He Who Places Two Bets. What words does the 
Great English Father have for the Senecas ?” 

Joseph replied with the greatest calm. 

“They are words of allegiance. Not only for the Senecas but also 
for the whole of the Tonghouse. You will hear them at greater length 
at the council, in the spring.” 

The Seneca nodded. Walter Butler signed to the Brants to follow 

“Come, I will take you to my father. But at dinner keep a little 
time for me, Joseph. I want to hear the news from the motherland.” 

The group passed through the crowd. Young Butler walked stiffly. 
Joseph felt cold, silent eyes upon him. 

“My son exaggerates. We’re doing a good job, but the sachems are a 
long way from deciding which side to take. They come here because 
we have provisions, rifles, blankets, and rum; they think we’re at 
home here. They have much to gain, but they are reluctant to take 
the nation into war. 

John Butler sat up in his chair and began striding back and forth 
across the room. The Spartan surroundings matched the appearance 
of the old Irishman, more tough and hoary than Joseph remembered. 

“They may well have a point. The garrison is undermanned. News 
of the disembarkations in New York and Quebec comes from too 
far away. The Senecas and the Tuscaroras don’t see the British forces 
deployed, they don’t see what advantage there is in taking part in 
the conflict.” 

Joseph pointed to the east. “The eastern portal of the Tonghouse 
is already under attack from the enemy. That’s why I’m here. To 
ask you to support me and the men I’m assembling. We need 
gunpowder, rifles, and victuals.” 

“A loyalist militia? Is that what you have in mind?” 

“Yes,” Joseph replied. 

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Butler sat down again. Joseph noticed the inlaid wooden 
armchair, carved with scenes from the Passion of Christ. 

Buder struck the gleaming arm of the chair with the palm of his 
hand. “A present from the Senecas. It came from a French abbey.” 
He seemed to meditate for a moment, and said at last, “I 
have a task to perform here. Its success depends on the quantity 
of supplies that I manage to bring in.” His voice grew serious. 
“Winter is at the gates and I hardly have enough for my family. If 
I run out of goods, the Senecas will turn their backs on me, that 
much is certain. The only way to keep them on our side is to keep 
them supplied.” 

Joseph remained impassive. 

“Are you denying me your support, Captain?” 

Butler sighed. “ When the time comes you will have all the support 
you need. But if you want my opinion, your initiative strikes me as 
rather hasty. We haven’t received orders from high command, and 
the council of the Six Nations hasn’t yet been called.” 

Joseph suppressed the impulse to raise his voice. 

“In the Mohawk Valley the rebels are already doing whatever they 
want. Johnson Hall has been requisitioned, and Sir John’s wife is 
in prison. It’s time to defend ourselves. You say we should wait for 
orders, but I have the word of the king in person.” 

“Don’t get angry, Joseph Brant,” said Butler, raising his open 
hand. “It won’t change my mind. I know what’s happening at our 
home. My own wife and two little sons have been captured by the 
rebels and brought to Albany. I wasn’t there to defend them, but 
here, doing my duty as a good loyalist.” 

The Indian remained silent. 

Butler rose to his feet and picked up a wooden stick from the 
table. It was a staff of command, inlaid and painted red and black. 
Its grip was adorned with various scalps. 

“Another gift from the Seneca sachems,” said the old captain. 
“An admirable object, don’t you think? It emanates strength and 
authority.” He stroked one of the tuffs of hair with a delicate gesture 
of his rough, knotty hands. “Fear.” 

He approached Joseph, holding the stick in plain view. 

“What do you want to do?” he asked. “Sacrifice the family? Do 
you want to lose your dear ones, your descendants?” He looked at 
the Indian without expecting a reply. 

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Joseph saw the faces of Susanna, Isaac and Christina passing 
before his eyes. 

“God only knows if I can wait to act,” Buder went on, his voice 
low and grim. “But I know that when the moment comes, it will be 
as terrible as the wrath of Our Lord, and we must all be willing to 
rise to the challenge. Accept the sacrifices that God imposes upon 
us. Turn ourselves into a scourge.” A grimace of hatred twisted his 
mouth. “On that day we will draw out the innards of the renegades. 
We will decorate the drive of Johnson Hall with their guts.” 
Suddenly he appeared to stir himself. 

“I renew the offer I made to you in Montreal: Stay here with us. 
At the appropriate moment we will lead the counterattack together.” 
Joseph rose from his chair. 

“I’m sorry, I can’t wait. My decision has been taken.” 

Butler nodded with resignation. 

“I understand. Don’t leave empty-handed. We confiscated a cargo 
on the lake. A dozen rifles and four barrels of gunpowder. It isn’t 
much, but. . . Take it, you’ll need it.” 

Joseph felt his blood boiling with rage, but managed to contain 
himself. It was better than nothing and he was in no position to 
refuse. He stared at the Irishman’s outstretched hand for a long time 
before deciding to shake it. 

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11 . 

He left Fort Niagara alone and in silence. A cascade of pins fell from 
the white sky, announcing frost. 

Joseph looked at the long, narrow trail ahead of him. He decided 
it would not be a return journey so much as a pilgrimage. Winter 
would not stop him: he would bring the news to the Nations, the 
gospel according to Joseph Brant Thayendanegea. If John Butler had 
gunpowder and salted meat, he had a story to tell, one so fine that 
it would set souls alight. The story of an Indian who, like Hendrick 
many years before, had gone to the island of England and spoken to 
the Great English Father. He certainly wouldn’t persuade them to 
fight in the snow, but the first warmth would awaken their instincts 
and their desire to test themselves, at least it would the younger men 
among them. Then something would happen — he was sure of it. 
Events would help him to persuade the undecided, and God would 
be on his side. 

He reached Geneseo on Christmas Day. The curiosity of the 
inhabitants welcomed him like a warm embrace. His fame marched 
ahead of him to the Five Finger Lakes and the Mohawk Valley. It 
reached the Seneca villages and headed south, all the way to the 
slopes of the Allegheny Mountains. He told the elders about the 
Wise White Man who had entrusted him with the task of fighting 
in his name. The young men he told about the strongest army in the 
world. The children he told about the fireworks. 

On the first day of the new year he was in Buck Tooth, then in 
Conewango, and then the snow stopped him and forced him to 
turn back. 

He headed east, toward the Five Fingers, passing through villages, 
stopping in the houses to sit by the fire and spread the king’s words. In 
Cayuga he developed a fever and had to stay for two weeks. Outside 
his dwelling a line of people waited for the story of the king and 
the city with its huge buildings that could hold hundreds of people. 

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Joseph kept them all happy. He showed himself to be proud, but 
not vainglorious. He pretended he was in good health, suppressing 
his coughing fits as if choking down bitter morsels. When he had 
regained his strength he set off for Onondaga. Throngs of little boys 
and the songs of women announced his arrival. He asked the guards 
of the Sacred Fire of the Confederation to attend the Oswego 
Council in the spring. The sachems agreed, in exchange for a 
detailed account of his journey beyond the ocean. “Tike Hendrick,” 
the oldest of them murmured, sitting in the circle, and the name of 
Thayendanegea ran from one gate of the Tonghouse to the other. 
A decrepit old chief asked him how many people lived in London. 
Joseph replied that their numbers were greater than the termites in a 
termite’s nest and the sachems talked about it for a whole day, closed 
away in a conclave like papist bishops. 

“Brothers, this rebellion is the greatest threat that the Six Nations 
have ever had to confront. The American Englishmen have declared 
their independence from England: they no longer recognize the 
authority of the king. This means they believe that the bar placed 
upon their expansion into our lands has fallen. They will spread 
westward like a great sea. Only by fighting can we hope to save 
ourselves from catastrophe. Fighting for England and fighting for 

Some of the men nodded, but most of them remained puzzled 
and pensive. No one followed him. Undaunted, he continued on 
his solitary way, leaving the villages and the winter behind him. He 
reached Oquaga at the end of March, pulling behind him two mules 
laden with whatever supplies he had managed to procure. He was 
alone. He was the most famous Indian in the Six Nations. 

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12 . 

They left without fuss, moving toward the gilded sunset. With them 
they dragged two cows, the cart horse, sacks of maize. William 
Adlum contemplated the half-empty granary and thought of the 
effort it had taken him to fill it. The children peeped out from the 
little window of the attic, where they had taken refuge when the 
men had appeared in the courtyard. Their head chief had spoken 
kindly, asking for food and animals in the name of King George. 
Meanwhile, the other chiefs showed their rifles. 

Two generals had blockaded the battlefront: Winter and Smallpox. 
Through the fog of that April morning it was clear that the first of 
these was now beginning to give ground, while the other was no 
longer attacking as virulently as before. 

Now it was up to other officers to pick up the staff of command, 
make decisions, move on to the final confrontation. 

Joseph Brant was finishing his clothing ceremony, in Oquaga’s 
house, with slow and detailed care, aware that the time had come 
for its completion, as it had for the role that he had chosen for 
himself. Command. He didn’t have a general’s stripes, but that was 
of no importance: war appointed its greatest executors in the field. 
By taking the initiative at the right moment you can easily topple 
the most hierarchical structure. And by choosing the right time for 
action you can decide the outcome in many conflicts. The valor and 
courage of the warriors takes care of the rest. Joseph knew there 
were difficulties. Their equipment was sparse, only a few rifles, and 
they were short of gunpowder and money — all things you need to 
win a war. And their contingent wasn’t large enough, but more men 
might join as more victories were won. Enthusiasm and the desire 
for booty would swell the ranks. If the volunteers going into battle 
beside Joseph Brant earned a solid reward, without costing the 
king’s coffers a penny, within a few months they would be legion. 

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34 2 

At last Joseph slipped on the scarlet jacket of the imperial army, 
solemnly and meticulously doing up each button, smoothing every 
crease and wrinkle, to create an authoritative and martial appearance. 
Now he was ready. Outside, the rays of the sun pierced the morning 
fog. Only at that moment did he notice that Isaac was behind him, 
studying him, grim and spellbound. He stared at the little boy for a 
few seconds, enough to make him feel worried. 

“Come with your father. We have to talk to the men.” 

The boy jumped behind him like a dog. 

The faces told stories. They spoke of lives spent turning clods and 
sowing seeds in untamed land, of wounds from claws and knives. 
They wore the stolid expressions of peasants and hunters. They lived 
deep in the interior of the colony, and Joseph knew that he could 
rely on their hatred of the Albany Assembly and the New York 

In front of all the others, the Hough brothers and Daniel Secord 
were resting on long rifles. They greeted Joseph’s arrival by touching 
the brims of their hats. Some of the others did likewise. 

Joseph, with a hand on Isaac’s shoulder, took up his position 
under the flag, as he had done the previous autumn. 

“You have come of your own free will,” he said in English. “I can’t 
give you any wages, as the officers of the army do, because I have no 
money. I can’t supply you with weapons and ammunition, or give 
you rations. But I can tell you that you will be obeying a single chief 
and no one else. And you will be able to leave whenever you wish. 
Only the honor of your word binds you to this company. We have 
only one purpose: to fight the enemies of the king. Our enemies.” 

“Hurrah for Brant’s Volunteers!” cried Henry Hough. 

“Hurrah!” repeated Johnny. 

A silence followed, broken only by coughing and the spitting of 

“I shall set up our headquarters here,” Joseph went on. “But in 
order to fight we must get hold of food and ammunition.” 

“We know where to go and get them, Captain Brant.” It was 
Henry Hough’s rasping voice again. “From the farms of the traitors. 
Those sly dogs who don’t openly support the rebellion, but do so in 
the shadows. Spies and jinxes. We will requisition their animals and 
their granaries. We will take their weapons and their gunpowder.” 

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“And what if you’re wrong and they are really patriots ?” objected 
a scrawny young man with a shock of red hair. 

Henry Hough spat tobacco juice on the ground and darted him 
a malevolent glance. 

“If they are good patriots they’lllet us have it without complaining. 
We are defenders of the king.” 

A murmur of approval ran through the group. 

Joseph raised a hand and silence fell. 

“May God be with us.” 

William Adlum thanked God for being alive, along with the rest of 
the family. The shadow of the flag stretched across the land until it 
licked the farm itself. The soldiers were ghosts returning to Gehenna. 
No, they were thieves and cowards. 

His wife called to him from the doorway of the house. The 
children were crying. 

William Adlum clenched his fists and turned to go back in. The 
world was collapsing, and all he could do was pray. The Day of 
Judgment was plainly near at hand. 

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13 . 

New York was all rain and grey outlines. The carriage wheels sank 
into the mud of Wall Street, as the horse hobbled wetly along under 
blows from the coachman’s whip. 

Guy Johnson thought of the letter that had arrived the previous 

Since returning to America he had seen his former associates 
leaving one by one for the Great Unknown that began on the far 
shore of the Harlem River. He had been left on his own, camping 
out on a scrap of New World that wasn’t even dry land. Now events 
were paying him back for his inactivity. 

His joints had started creaking again: rust between his vertebrae, 
a sense of clumsiness and slowness, migraine headaches. It was time 
to move, he needed to make a jump. 

General Howe, the hero of Boston, would welcome him right 
away. A kind of understanding had arisen between them. Now 
he was going to ask permission to equip a boat and set sail. Not a 
pin moved in New York without the general’s approval. He could 
be compared to a dictator from ancient times, ruling the city 
in the only possible way, with a fist of iron and the support of 
the fleet commanded by his brother, the only person he really 

A difficult pair, the Howes. The New Yorkers had had to learn 
that at their own expense. They were riotous and undisciplined 
people, all smugglers who would rather have gone on doing business 
without paying taxes to the Crown. It was no coincidence that at 
the outbreak of the insurrection they had melted down the statue of 
King George to make bullets to send to Washington. 

The carriage slowed down in front of a unit of redcoat soldiers 
patrolling the street. The people stepped aside to let them pass, 
glancing at them indifferently. A little way off, two sinister-looking 
characters were chained to the stocks, covered with filth. One of 

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them seemed to be staring at Guy. On the other side, a second patrol 
of soldiers: the same red uniforms, dark skin. Negroes trying to sign 
up other Negroes. 

The world was changing at a great rate, Guy thought. One day 
you’re a slave, the next you’re a soldier of His Majesty. 

Tall and short. He thought again of the letter he had received. 
Daniel Claus, writing to tell him he was back from Tondon. A 
year in the antechamber had won him the command of the Indian 
irregulars in the imminent counteroffensive. He also wrote about 
Montreal, where he had met up with Sir John to recruit volunteers. 
They invited Guy to join them by the beginning of the summer. 

Fate could be mocking: Guy had left the German at the 
lowest point of his fortunes, and now here he was offering the 
superintendent a position by his side. 

Claus wrote that he would expect the regular troops to get the 
expedition under way. He was convinced that this time he would 
take a few Indians into the war. Joseph Brant would also be of the 

Joseph. His translator, Guy thought. The Department’s 
interpreter. Old Sir William had been very clear-sighted in choosing 
him as a pupil. In Tondon that Indian had become famous and sure 
of his own capabilities. 

If he left in a few days he would be able to do it. Joining the others 
and taking his share of military honor, with the kind concession of 
Daniel Claus and Sir John Johnson. The thought bored into his 

He would be able to hug his daughters again. Claus was looking 
after them. Had brought them back from Tondon to meet up with 
their father. He wrote that Esther was grown now, that he wouldn’t 
recognize her. 

Guy wondered if the little ones would remember his face. 

Traveling across the colony was unthinkable. The rebels held the 
hinterland, while gangs of irregulars ran back and forth in search 
of booty, spies and hostages. He had to obtain permission to man 
a ship, travel to the Bay of St. Tawrence and Quebec. To set off 
upriver. A long and difficult journey. 

The carriage stopped in front of the military governor’s residence. 
Guy got out quickly and saluted the sentries, who let him pass. 

* * * 

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“I thought the English climate was hard, before I spent a summer 
and a winter in New York.” 

General Howe was standing by the window. From that position 
he enjoyed the sight of an expanse of roofs, interrupted by the 
pennants of the ships moored by the quays. Gulls with dirty feathers 
sheltered from the rain beneath the eaves, watching the streets 
below, waiting for an unexpected morsel. 

“Does the bad weather put Your Excellency in a bad mood?” 

“No, sir, I’m too much i’ th’ sun, as the Prince of Denmark has it.” 

“When Your Excellency quotes Shakespeare, it’s usually a bad omen.” 

Howe glanced fleetingly at Guy. 

“They’re sidelining me, Colonel Johnson. What should my mood 

“You’re making fun of me, General. King George has no better 
officer than you.” 

Howe gave a twisted smile. 

“You forget that I am also a member of Parliament. On the wrong 

He showed Guy to a chair with a high wooden back. Guy sat 
down. He noticed a half-empty bottle of sherry that had been left 
open on the table. The general invited him to help himself, but he 
refused with a bow of the head. 

“Look at me, Colonel Johnson,” said Howe, still staring at the 
city. His voice was hoarse from alcohol and thinking. “You have 
before you the man who saved Boston. The taking of Breed’s Hill 
cost the blood of many good men. Twice they repelled us with long- 
range fire. How many officers would have ordered a third attack? 
One of them you have before you. We took that damned hill and 
then the whole accursed promontory.” He tapped the windowpane 
with a delicate gesture that contrasted starkly with his uniform and 
his harsh tone. “Next came New York. A forced march in stages, 
to get there ahead of Washington. My men held the city when 
the reinforcements from England had yet to arrive. We fought 
here in Manhattan, in White Plains, we took the forts, routed the 
continentals. I sent Cornwallis after Washington, to chase him to 
hell, but this damned country is much bigger than hell.” 

He broke oft and sighed. 

“No one put his soul into this war more than yours truly, 
Colonel Johnson. Do you think I did it because I think it’s a just 

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war? It may seem strange to you, but that’s not the case. I was 
elected as a Whig, I was opposed to the politics of our government 
in America. I acted for the good of England, and because I am 
a loyal subject of His Majesty. I have done my duty as a soldier 
even though I didn’t agree with the cause. And what is my reward? 
They send Burgoyne to take command of the land offensive.” He 
sneered bitterly. “After all I have done in the field, they still don’t 
trust me. They are afraid I’ll become too awkward, you see? So 
they accuse me of fence-sitting, of holding off the inland attack. 
Rumors are born in the House of Commons, but they can be 
heard quite clearly over here as well.” 

He turned and sat down on the overstuffed red-brocade armchair. 
“Tet them do it. Tet them force their way inland, puffed up with 
all their self-importance.” He looked at Guy Johnson. “I don’t wish 
to offend you, Colonel, but the presumption of the Tories suggests 
the frivolity. And God knows that war is a serious business.” 

With a broad sweep of his hand, Guy invited him to go on. He 
didn’t seem offended in the least. From the outset their political 
discussions had been based upon mutual respect. Guy had been the 
one who had quipped that if Samuel Johnson frequented the same 
Tondon club as Edmund Burke, a less famous Johnson could boast 
of conversing with a Whig general. 

Howe looked at the bottle of sherry without touching it, as if 
gauging what was to be done with it. 

“Burgoyne doesn’t know this country very well,” he went on. 
“He thinks he’11 come down from Canada and meet a few gangs of 
farmers armed with pitchforks and old muskets. I’d love to know 
how he thinks he’s going to keep two -hundred-mile supply lines 
going.” He shook his head. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to 
stay within reach of the coast. I tell you, in America a good backup 
fleet is your best insurance. We, too, will attack. But to the south, 
toward Philadelphia. Before the winter I will have taken that city 
as well.” He gave a slight shrug. “As long as they let me,” he added. 
“That way, all the ports in the North will be ours. Holding the ports 
means holding trade and the communication routes with Europe. 
What else does a naval power like England need? 

Someone knocked on the door. An attendant came in with a 
stack of papers, which he set down for the general’s attention. Howe 
picked up his pen and dipped it in the inkwell. 

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34 8 


“You must forgive me, Colonel. You have certainly requested an 
audience for a reason, and I have bored you with my ruminations.” 

Guy cleared his throat, but the words didn’t come out. He 
thought of Claus’s offer and the position of second in command 
that would be his. He thought of the Mohawk Valley in the hands 
of the rebel militia, of Johnson Hall transformed into a barracks. 
Who knew who was sleeping in the rooms at Guy Park? Yokels 
and stable boys, thieves and looters. Their stench could well have 
contaminated the walls, never to leave. They might even have found 
the family treasure. 

He thought of the long days at sea, the pirates attacking the 
boats in the name of a new and hungry nation. He thought of the 
mosquitoes and again of Daniel Claus, who was extending a hand 
to him. 

He looked at the city outside the window, behind the general. A 
ray of sunlight had pierced the clouds and was pouring in through 
the window. 

“I am here to pay you tribute, Excellency,” he said, “and to assure 
myself that you are in good health. And certainly to offer you my 
services, in case they might be of use to you.” 

“I am grateful to you, sir,” Howe replied distractedly, beginning 
to sign the papers. “I know I can count on your support. I am in 
excellent health, don’t worry on that account — apart, that is, 
from my poisoned heart. But now please excuse me, I must sign 
today’s death sentences, and it is not an activity that encourages 

Guy got to his feet, bowed, and headed for the door. 

“Colonel,” the general called out to him. 

“Excellency,” said Guy, turning around. 

Howe held the goose quill in midair, with ink on its tip, as black 
and dense as the blood it would shed. 

“Come back and see me before I, too, throw myself into this great 
offensive.” He pulled his face into a smile. “We’ll drink a bottle of 
brandy and talk a little bit about London.” 

Guy nodded and passed through the door. 

He had chosen. He felt lighter, not necessarily better. 

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14 . 

They had arrived one June morning, after a day of marching and a 
night on the riverbank. The people of Unadilla had sought refuge 
in the church, praying that they would go quickly. The minister had 
appeared in the door to welcome them into the house of the Tord. 
Joseph knew him: he was one of those white men who, when they 
hear talk of Indians, stroke their scalps and brandish the cross. 

Without putting God to any trouble, the Volunteers left before 
evening, with a dozen cows, three pigs, and a bag each of vegetables 
and dried meat. 

There had been no sign of the rebel militia. 

A week later, many of the farms in the area had already been 
abandoned. The settlers escaped to Cherry Valley, to German Flatts 
and to Albany, to beg generals and settlers not to leave them alone 
to the mercy of the Indians. 

Nicholas Herkimer had offered to help them. He had sent a 
message to Joseph to ask for a meeting, in the name of their old 

A meeting in Unadilla, in the middle of the month. 

Beneath a boiling sun that smelled of summer, Daniel Secord walked 
on clumps of earth. This field of alfalfa separated the Volunteers 
from the Tryon Militia. Those who had seen the rebel troop coming 
down along the shore of the Susquehanna spoke of at least three 
hundred armed men. 

The general approached him on horseback, flanked by five of 
his troops, and stopped to wait in the grass, at the precise center of 
the plot. Secord smelled tobacco macerated in scotch and thought 
that only a madman could smoke a pipe with that sun over his 

“Captain Brant sends his greetings and asks to know the reason 
for this meeting.” 

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35 ° 


Herkimer took a long putt and emptied his pipe by striking it 
against his saddle. 

“We have always been good friends,” he replied. “They say he has 
spoken to King George and Lord Germain. I would like to know 
what he think about the case of the colonies.” 

“And what about your militiamen? Don’t they want to speak to 
the captain as well? It will be a long discussion.” 

“It will be a friendly discussion,” the general replied. “You have 
my word.” 

“Very well. I will come back in an hour with the answer to your 
questions. Is there anything else you want to ask?” 

Herkimer’s index finger seemed to be caught in the bowl of the 
pipe as he pressed fresh tobacco into it. 

“You mean that Captain Brant does not intend to meet me?” 

“I mean, sir, that a meeting with three hundred armed men is not 
called a ‘friendly discussion,’ it is called a battle. If that is the kind of 
meeting you have in mind, we will be happy to satisfy you.” 

This time the general appeared not to have heard. He finished 
filling his pipe and brought it to his mouth without lighting it. 

“Inform your captain that I will have a shelter built on this precise 
spot. I will be here tomorrow morning, with five unarmed men. In 
this heat, I am sure that Captain Brant will not keep me waiting in 

Indian chatter, the most worthless of goods on the market. Herkimer 
wanted to take a hundredweight of it home with him. 

“Tell me if I’m wrong,” said Jonas Klug, as he whittled a branch 
with his knife. “We haven’t come all this way to listen to a savage.” 

“Quite correct,” replied Rynard’s mouth, appearing out of the 
darkness. “Moreover, I know what he’s going to say, I’d bet a Spanish 
dollar on it.” 

“I agree with you, gentlemen. Perhaps together we can convince 
the general.” 

“The general won’t change his mind, Captain Neuman. Words 
drive him mad.” 

The German’s knife abruptly cut the branch in two. Part of it fell 
into the fire, where the flames began consuming it. 

“If you want my opinion, the only thing that matters is that we 
get the scalp of Joseph Brant. The rest is wasted effort.” 

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35 1 

Darkness swallowed up the faces. It seemed to do the same thing 
with their words. 

“If they want to fight, don’t let us stop them,” observed Neuman. 

“And what need is there for fighting? If I were part of the 
delegation tomorrow, I’d solve the problem once and for all.” 

Klug took his knife by the tip of the blade, weighed it in his hand 
for a moment, then threw it to the ground, where it landed between 
Rynard’s feet. 

Once again it was Neuman who spoke first. 

“If you tell me that Joseph Brant is a danger that needs to be 
eliminated, then I’m with you. But knifing a man in the back is an 
act of dishonor.” 

“A man? A savage, I say. Think how much misery, destruction and 
death you would spare the American people. And even if he were a 
white man, what kind of patriot are you if you choose your honor 
over the good of the Nation?” 

A fir cone dropped into the fire and sent up a flurry of sparks. 

“He’s right,” Rynard observed. “If a great wrong brings great 
advantages, it’s no longer a wrong.” 

“Herkimer and his Indian friend will speak,” Klug continued, 
“and we’ll go back to German Flatts, and one day we’ll be told that 
Joseph Brant has flayed the people of Unadilla. That day I will come 
and ask you how you feel, Captain Neuman.” 

The man stirred the sand with the tip of his boot. He squashed a 
cockroach that was trying to crawl out and raised his head. 

“What are your plans ?” 

“Get rid of the Indian, what else ? I’d offer to do it myself, but my 
aim isn’t up to it. It requires someone capable of taking long and 
accurate aim. When Brant shows his face, bang\ The problem is 
solved once and for all.” 

“You risk the gallows pulling something like that. If I were you 
I’d be careful.” 

Klug looked around. “Why, are you saying there are spies here? 
Perhaps you should be careful yourself.” 

A frosty silence fell. 

“Calm down, gentlemen. I’ve never seen anyone end up on the 
gallows for bumping oft an Indian,” Rynard finally declared, in the 
pause between two spits. “Some people would give you a medal for 
getting rid of the savage who met the king.” 

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35 2 


A hum of approval ran around the fire. 

“I’ve heard lots of people boast of being the best huntsman in 
German Flatts, in the Valley, in the whole colony.” Klug stood up. 
“Isn’t there anyone willing to demonstrate it? No one’s coming 
forward? You, Keller? Or you, Rumsfeld?” 

The last man gulped, then nodded. “I’ll do it.” 

“All right, then. Do we all agree?” 

Silence settled once more. The men weighed up the words they 
had just heard. One by one they declared their agreement. 

“Fine, gentlemen. Now let us sleep the sleep of the just.” 

Pain, pain in his ribs: they were kicks, Klug realized. He was being 
kicked awake. And it didn’t take much to wake someone that way. 
His heart leaped into his mouth, he was about to sit up but felt the 
sole of a boot pressing on his chest. 

His eyes focused on a bayonet and followed it up to a rifle, and 
a militiaman who seemed to find the whole thing incredibly funny. 
Klug looked around. Rumsfeld and Keller were being subjected to 
the same treatment, and so was Rynard. 

Flanked by his guards, Herkimer stared at him. His face showed 
more disgust than anger. 

“I should hang you for sedition, gentlemen. But I shall be satisfied 
with much less. You, Rumsfeld, fifteen lashes. Klug will have ten. 
The others will get away with nine. Then you will go back home. Do 
not cross my path again.” 

The pipe-smoke rolled thickly against the roof. The men dripped 
sweat and dust. General Herkimer held a Bible open on his knees 
and reread the same four lines. He was not distracted by impatience, 
or by worry about what he would say. The meeting was the final act 
in a ceremony: the meaning lay in the gesture, not in the words. 
When an American patriot could still travel a hundred miles to talk 
to a loyalist Indian, the time of massacres had not yet come. 

A battalion of clouds was pursuing the sun when Joseph Brant 
came into the open, surrounded by his men. Herkimer set down 
the Bible, got to his feet and invited them to make themselves 
comfortable. Brant’s entourage sat down on two benches arranged 
in a half-moon. Brant refused the camp chair and remained 

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Behind him, the older of the Hough brothers smiled smugly and 
nudged Daniel Secord. 

Joseph Brant greeted everyone and stared at Herkimer. “Your 
courage is admirable, sir. You are aware that I could sweep you 
away with a wave of my hand. My forces are greater in number 
than yours.” He paused rhetorically to allow his words to imprint 
themselves clearly in the minds of those present. Then he went on. 
“It has not been an easy matter to restrain my warriors. I had to tell 
them that you, sir, are an old friend, and that among your men there 
are old acquaintances and schoolmates. For that reason I will settle 
for a dozen cattle as a peace offering, and the immediate withdrawal 
of your troops.” 

Herkimer gestured to his men to be quiet. “We are most fortunate 
to have friends like you, Mr. Brant. At any rate, I should like to check 
in person the state of the people in Unadilla.” 

“Out of the question, sir. Remember that we are at war, a war that 
we did not want. Consider yourself lucky not to have been brought 
to Unadilla in chains.” 

Herkimer nodded, without taking his eyes off the Indian’s. “As 
you wish, Mr. Brant. But I warn you. Do not allow atrocities to be 
committed in this war. They will not be tolerated.” 

“I was about to say the same thing. The discussion is over. The 
next time we meet, it will not be to talk.” 

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It was good to reach Oswego from the lake, like coming from the 
sea. It didn’t even seem like the same place, when it had appeared 
on the horizon. 

The aquatic convoy was imposing and magnificent. A big ship, 
no different from those that ploughed the ocean, formed the 
arrowhead of a fleet of smaller vessels, all making for the council of 
the Six Nations. 

Esther watched the vertex of that sharp geometry: pointing the 
way were John Johnson and Daniel Claus, standing stiffly in the 
prow of the Barrymore, bringing a cargo of men and victuals. 

Sir John had organized their return from Montreal in grand style: 
he had reached the council with hundreds of men, a militia that he 
had christened Royal Green. In addition, the Barrymore overflowed 
with food, cannon, rifles, gunpowder, rum. 

Esther had arrived in Canada with her uncles in early spring. She 
had to acknowledge that since being offered the job in the capital, 
Uncle Daniel seemed like another person. Even his manners had 
changed; they were more resolute. He now dressed in the London 
fashion, and even his German accent was less marked. 

Everywhere there was talk of war: no one thought of anything 
else. Esther studied the men’s faces, their determined expressions. 
She listened to speeches, unequivocal words. “Implacable revenge,” 
“Break their bones,” “The Johnsons will take command again,” “His 
Majesty’s army will reach us in ten days.” 

When the convoy had been sighted from the battlements of 
Oswego a jubilant crowd had assembled on the shore to wait 
for them, while others tried to board boats and canoes to go and 
welcome them and escort them to the dock. Their enthusiasm was 
unquenchable, and Esther had been filled with powerful emotions, 
and a confusion of feelings had swelled her heart. During the 
disembarkation and the frenzy of the unloading operations, men 

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3 55 

and women had run to lend a hand. Esther had taken advantage of 
the hubbub to vanish. There was something she should have done a 
long time ago. 

The little graveyard behind the chapel was deserted. The wind carried 
away the sounds of the camp and the crowd of men preparing for 
war. The breeze slipped in and out of the standing crosses, bringing 
with it the smell of the lake. 

A slender figure stood out among the gravestones, wildflowers 
held tightly in its joined hands. 

Mother, I’ve come back. 

I’m home again, mother of mine, even though home is far away. 
I love these trees, the water, our rivers. There are many Indians. Our 
Indians. There’s an important council, it’s going to decide the war. 
They say a great danger hangs over us, but I won’t hide away and cry. 
Not anymore. 

Here I am, I’m back. 

I’ve crossed the ocean again, to be here with you. 

Much time has passed, and I am different. I have grown. 

In Tondon I learned many things. I could have stayed, Aunt 
Nancy wouldn’t have stopped me. I chose to come back. 

To take my place, as you would have wanted. As Grandfather 
would have wanted. 

Aunt Nancy and Uncle Daniel said my father would be here as 
well, but I haven’t seen him. He won’t be there. I stopped waiting 
for him some time ago. I have learned to live without him. Others 
have shouldered my pain. One of them I hope to meet here, a brave 
and good man. 

That’s one of the reasons I came back. 

Mother, these fresh flowers are the love that still lives. They are 
a smile, a hope in times of hardship. They are the steady grip that 
banishes fear and pain. 

My name is Esther Johnson, daughter of Mary, granddaughter of 
William. This is the land where I was born, these are my people. 

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16 . 

Philip thought that just two years before he had traveled from 
Canajoharie to Oswego, only to end up fighting in Canada. Now 
the war was everywhere, and yet it always set off from here, from the 
shores of the great lake, where the Iroquois had once again arranged 
to meet. 

Paul Oronhyateka pointed to the smoke that rose above the 
treetops. They were close now. 

There were barely thirty of them, the last able-bodied men left in 
Canajoharie, plus the old sachem Tekarihoga. It had been a silent 
and invisible journey, without fires or lengthy halts, in what was now 
hostile territory. At every stage, Philip had heard the hammering of 
the woodpecker. It was following them, flying overhead, darting in 
front of them, checking that the trails were free, beating with its 
beak to urge them onward, telling them to get a move on. 

When the first tents appeared on the edge of the clearing, Jethro 
Kanenonte uttered a cry announcing their arrival. Kanatawakhon 
and Sakihenakenta echoed it, while Philip filled his lungs with the 
heat that scorched the air. 

Some Highlanders drew pieces of boiled meat from a dented pot. 
Philip sat by the fire and thanked them. He watched the flames 
dancing among the embers under the vessel. He thought about what 
was left after combustion: a dry, dusty substance. Blackened splinters, 
grey ashes. Fire gives life, and yet it consumes. The wood is destroyed, 
it becomes a blackish skeleton, a pointless relic, mute dust. 

It had been a strange summer: a series of storms that furiously 
followed one another, breaking the branches of the trees, changing 
the land into viscid mud. In the sun the skin of his face stung; in the 
shade his body shivered. 

The tops of the pines swayed in all directions, like the heads of 
monks all chanting different verses. 

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All the songs were mournful. The meat was stringy. 

From the other side of the parade ground a figure attracted his 
attention. A young woman was walking toward him. Philip heard 
an inner voice speaking her name. 

Esther came forward, the only pale patch in the gray of the camp. 
On her face was a faint, inscrutable smile. Her wide skirt, a silky 
shade between pink and yellow, was licked by the mud; a bonnet 
rimmed with lace protected her hair. She radiated a tenacity whose 
potential Philip had sensed that day in London when he had taken 
her hand, and which now seemed fully developed. Around her wrist 
was the bracelet he had given her. 

Philip got to his feet. 

“Mr. Lacroix.” 

Her voice was mature now. She was a woman. He was aware of 
her smell. 

Philip didn’t know how to approach her. He said nothing. 

Esther looked him up and down. “The little girl hiding in the 
woodshed, you remember? I’m nearly fifteen now.” 

“What are you doing here?” Philip managed to ask her. “There’s 
a war on.” 

“My uncle, Mr. Claus, presumed that I would be able to meet my 
father. He was supposed to be coming here from New York. But I 
knew he wouldn’t come.” 

Philip frowned. 

“You knew that?” 

A shadow fell across Esther’s face. 

“Not all men are brave.” She stared Philip straight in the eyes. 
“There is only one man who is brave enough for all the others. And 
I knew I would meet him here.” 

Philip wondered how it was possible that this young woman was 
the same frightened creature that he had left in England. Barely 
a year had passed. Then he remembered that at that age time is 
counted in days, and that days like the ones they had faced make 
you grow up in a hurry. 

“I’ve got to go now, Mr. Lacroix. Aunt Nancy will be looking for 

Philip sat down beside the fire again. Before he could get his 
thoughts in order, someone squatted down next to him. 

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They hadn’t seen each other for a year, but Joseph talked as if he 
were resuming a conversation interrupted only a moment before. 

“Molly didn’t want to come, then.” 

“She thinks she might still be useful down there.” 

Joseph nodded. “I thought so.” 

“Your message said they were all here,” Philip said. “But there are 
no Oneida.” 

“Does that matter? Everyone makes his own choice,” replied 
Joseph. “We are part of a big army. We will be home by the autumn.” 
He picked up a piece of meat on his fork, blew on it and sank his 
teeth into it. After chewing it for a long time, he spat it out into 
the dust. “This meat tastes like wood.” He got up and touched his 
friend’s shoulder. “We leave in two days,” he said. “We’re going to 
take Fort Stanwix. The Senecas will be there as well.” He was about 
to walk away, then stopped and bowed again. 

“I’m glad you’re here.” 

Philip watched him striding resolutely across the parade ground. 
He had done it. He was a chief. 

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17 . 

In the forests around Canajoharie, the blackberries and strawberries 
had ripened early, and the women went out at dawn to pick them 
cool with dew. Time stolen from more useful work, and a basket of 
berries for booty, just enough to sweeten the tongues of a family’s 
hungry mouths. And yet none of them would have renounced the 
flavors of the forest, or a ritual that began the summer, a guarantee 
of order and beauty. 

In the last year the valley had opened up over an abyss, had 
become a field of conquest for a new nation, but the little fruits 
were still scented, and covered the edge of the precipice. As sweet as 
hopes, Molly thought. As red and black as war. 

Perhaps that was why the great vision of two summers before had 
returned, as clear as the air after the first snow. Sir William’s funeral, 
the land too hard to be dug, the coffin gliding on the water, toward 
the spring. 

According to the other older women, it was a prophecy of things 
to come. That which goes against the current is destined to return, 
and Chief Big Business, Warraghiyagey, would come back in the form 
of his descendants, and they would have to prepare to welcome him. 

So Molly had decided to stay, even though Joseph had invited her 
to join him. So that Ann could eat blackberries, her lips circled with 
purple and her eyes bright with the new experience. 

She pushed the two little children among shrubs and patches 
of sunlight. Ann and George knelt comfortably and began eating 

Molly took the opportunity to walk away, still within calling 
distance, to a granite rock hidden by the trees. She hoped the boy 
wouldn’t be late. Certainly, his absence had already been noted. 
For some time the Whigs had been spying on her, checking her 
movements, and those of the people going in and out of the general 
store and her house. But no eyes could rifle through dreams, slip 

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beneath every forest rock, search the stores customers one by one. 
The rebel spies looked without seeing, and Molly, under close 
surveillance, went on handling news, information, dispatches. 

In his latest message, Joseph had told her about the major 
offensive planned by the English. The attack on the colony of New 
York would come from two sides, to trap the rebels in a vise. While 
General Burgoyne came down from Take Champlain, Joseph would 
follow the troops of Colonel St. Teger, who had been besieging Fort 
Stanwix for two weeks. The situation was one of stalemate, but the 
rebels would surrender sooner or later. 

What Joseph didn’t know was that the news had traveled along 
the Mohawk River until it reached the settlers’ villages. That night 
General Herkimer had set oft with seven hundred rebel militiamen, 
heading for the fort to help the besieged forces. 

The only alternative route for such a large contingent was the 
old Oneida path that ran from the village of Oriskany. The march 
would be very slow and a fast courier could get there at least three 
days before the rebels. That would give Joseph enough time to come 
up with a countermove. 

Molly suddenly heard a rustle behind her and stopped expectantly. 

The young man emerged from the forest and smiled at her. 

“May God protect you, Degonwadonti.” 

The woman walked over and handed him the letter, a few lines 
scribbled down that morning, which the young man slipped under 
his shirt. 

“You must join Thayendanegea. Run without stopping. Run 
until you burst, if you have to.” 

The image of the disfigured corpse of Samuel Waterbridge 
crossed her mind, but she banished it immediately and gripped the 
boy’s arm. 

“Come back safe and sound.” 

She watched him disappearing quickly among the trees. She 
hurried to fill the basket of berries and called the children to go back 
to the village. 

As she walked along the path, she saw in her mind’s eye Nicholas 
Herkimer in the drawing room at Johnson Hall, talking to Sir 
William and sipping black tea. Then she saw him as an older man, 
the last time he had dropped in at the store to persuade her to keep 
her people out of the war. 

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“Apparently Benjamin Franklin took the idea of a confederation 
from you Iroquois,” the German had smiled at her. 

“If Congress only wanted to steal ideas,” Molly had replied, “the 
Mohawk battle-ax would still lie underground.” 

For a moment she hoped that her brother and Nicholas Herkimer 
could still avoid one another, but she knew it was too late. The valley 
could never hold both of them. Warraghiyagey’s world had changed 

She looked at her own hands and those of her children, dyed with 
berry juice. She was frightened. Visions of blood reddening the river 
and flooding the forest came surging violently into her. She began to 
murmur a prayer. She prayed for Joseph. She prayed to the Master of 
Life to grant him victory over his enemies. 

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18 . 

When Nicholas Herkimer tried to reload his pistol he noticed that 
his hands were trembling. He had to lean against a tree trunk, get his 
breath back, cram the piston into the barrel, aim the weapon blindly 
past the tree and pull the trigger. The only sound that followed was 
that of the cock misfiring. 

His wounded leg gave way, and he slipped to the ground and 
lay outstretched in the rain, which dripped from the branches and 
struck his face. 

Hands gripped him and sat him up, resting his back against the 
bark. He saw the water coming down in streams to mix with his 
blood in a little puddle. He couldn’t remember how many hours it 
had been since his knee had been injured; his leg felt like a piece of 

Dr. Van Hoek slipped his boot oft. Herkimer tried not to think 
about the pain. He listened to Captain De John firing insults from 
the neighboring tree. His brother-in-law, a loyalist volunteer, was 
bombarding him with the same projectiles from a few yards further 
oft, going back down the whole family tree, until before they had set 
oft from Rotterdam. 

Herkimer thought his brother must be on the other side as well. 
And Williers’s cousins. And those great sons of bitches the Houghs. 
He knew those people; some of them had fought with him during 
the other war, along with Sir William Johnson. Good shots, Christ 
knew. He had to thank God for the storm that had granted a truce. 

He looked at the bodies lying around him, some with their skulls 
showing, red with blood. The moans of the wounded struggled 
with the silence of death. One man stretched his arm to the sky, 
begging for help with his last remaining voice. Herkimer thought 
he recognized Sanders. He had been scalped, but he was still alive. 
He would have dealt him the coup de grace, if only the firearms had 
worked. Neuman’s cries were heartrending. He lay a few trees away 

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3 6 3 

with a bullet in his guts, the blood pouring between fingers pressed 
to his belly. Two men were holding him tightly, but they couldn’t 
make him stop calling out to God and his own mother. 

Only a short time before, those men had been standing, alive. 
Time had suddenly speeded up, but the light said it was late in the 

“Don’t scatter, close ranks! Fire away!” 

He had shouted the orders in Mohawk Dutch to make sure 
everyone understood. The militia had obeyed: they had behaved 
well, like soldiers, like a real army. He thought he would have to 
write to Schuyler and Washington. They needed to know. They had 
repelled the enemy, by God. There were Indians among them too, 
quite a few. Forest demons, they emerged from the earth itself. 

“Don’t scatter, keep together!” 

The attack had come from the sides of the path. An ambush. 
They were waiting for them, someone had warned them. The first 
to collapse had been Jansen, struck in the chest. In a moment the 
fusillade had erased the forest. Blinded by smoke, the men had 
huddled together in a phalanx. 

“Two rows, in pairs, one fires and the other reloads!” 

Alternately firing and reloading, not giving the devils time to 
approach, they had kept them at a distance. With the Indians there was 
no escape in man-to-man fighting. Herkimer knew that; he had learned 
it during the other war. The men struck by tomahawks lay face down. 

Moving slowly, all together, like a gigantic spider, they had sought 
refuge in the copse. Salvation: for each man a shelter of solid wood, 
a position from which to return fire, a hole from which to fight like 

But now Herkimer could feel his men’s morale wavering, fear 
slipping its way among the trees, silent and lethal. Sooner or later 
the rain would stop and the gunpowder would dry. Could they 
repel a second attack? That was the question they held in, behind 
their shelters, accompanying it with a prayer. 

He thought of Gansevoort, stuck in Fort Stanwix, a few miles 
further on. They were supposed to bring him aid, ease the siege. 
They had to resist here, behind the trees, as Gansevoort was doing 
behind the battlements. The Free State of New York was in danger. 
If they yielded, the English would flood into the Mohawk Valley, 
where they would be able to attack Schuyler on his left flank. 

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They must wait for the light to fade, let the Oneidas guide them 
out of the forest, and organize their defense farther downstream. 

Neuman’s wails struck their eardrums even harder. He tossed and 
kicked to stave off the death that was clawing at him. He gave off a 
sense of panic, while on the other side the Indians mocked him with 
animal cries. 

“Shut him up, for God’s sake!” someone yelled. 

Herkimer knew he would have to resist this panic at all cost. 

“Captain De Jong!” 

“At your command, sir.” 

The lieutenant crept over to the tree, saw the blood-drenched 
sock and legging. 

“Pass it on,” Herkimer ordered, ignoring the pain. “Every man is 
to stay where he is. You must stay together. Anyone who makes a run 
for the forest is finished. If the Indians don’t find him, he will die of 
hunger and thirst.” 

De Jong did as he was bid. The general’s words traveled through 
the branches until they were lost in the depths of the undergrowth. 

Dr. Van Hoek shook his head. 

“The wound is infected. The bullet has been in your knee for too 

Herkimer glanced at the wound with his teeth clenched. Splinters 
of bone protruded from the flesh. All the pain in the world was 
concentrated on a single point. 

“Do what you have to.” 

The doctor nodded. 

“De Jong!” Herkimer roared. 

“At your command.” 

“What happened to our scouts ?” 

“Sir, the Oneidas are down there. They say they’ve already fired 
enough. They say the agreement was for them to act as guides. They 
don’t see any point in going on fighting.” 

“Tell them this,” the general hissed. “If they managed to open up 
an escape route I’ll see to it that they get two rifles each.” 

He glanced at the doctor, who was pouring rum on his equipment. 
He gripped the captain’s shoulder again. 

“De Jong, be sure that we have a massed defense. Either we stay 
together or it’s over.” 

At that moment a voice rang out from the other side. 

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“Hey, Herkimer! Do you hear me? Next time I’ll get you right 
between the eyes.” 

The general recognized the timbre and the accent. He coughed 
and took a breath. He managed to reply in a firm voice. 

“Then we will go to our Maker together, Henry Hough.” 

Neuman’s torments were echoing even more loudly than before. 
A merciful hand blocked his mouth, turning his wails into a muffled 

Herkimer thought of his men’s morale. He nodded to the doctor 
to wait and, supporting himself on De Jong, he managed to get back 
on his feet. He spoke with all his breath. 

“Tryon County Militia!” 

A sparse chorus of voices replied from the surrounding forest. 
Everyone stopped to listen to him. Even the loyalists on the other 

“You hear them? They think they’re frightening us. Instead 
they’re encouraging us. Tet them come! We’ve repelled them once, 
and we’ll do it again. This forest will be their grave.” 

“It will be yours, Herkimer!” croaked Henry Hough. 

The general clung to De Jong’s shoulder. 

“Remember that Albany is behind us,” he shouted, louder this 
time. “Even if we all have to die in this damned forest, one thing is 
certain: they shall not pass!” 

A broadside of invective was fired from the rebel side. 

Herkimer allowed himself to be lowered to the ground. Van 
Hoek showed him his saw, but the general halted him. 

“Get yourself an ax, Doctor. There’s no time to lose.” 

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19 . 

Joseph watched a big ant walking on a branch. The insect was 
carrying a leaf the size of a playing card. If men were as strong as 
that, he thought, we could knock down the trees in front of us with 
our bare hands and flush out the Tryon militia in just a few minutes. 

It had been a tough battle. After initial bursts of rifle fire the 
warriors had charged. Herkimer’s men had borne the brunt of the 
attack in the clearing, and then they had been forced back into the 
undergrowth. The surge by the Indians and the Volunteers had 
dissipated into a thousand streams before finally petering out. The 
clash had turned into a vague chaos of shots fired from one tree 
trunk to another, from only a few feet away. 

Joseph had lined up the Volunteers behind the trees, as the 
warriors furiously retreated. 

Sir John’s Royal Greens held their positions as well, but in all that 
confusion it had been hard to work out who was shooting at whom. 

The result was that the living, the dead and the injured were now 
scattered across several hundred square yards of forest. 

Only the storm had interrupted the fighting. 

While the smell of rotten leaves and damp wood covered the odor 
of gunpowder, Joseph wondered how to interpret the stalemate. 

That would surely be his day. As the English soldiers besieged 
Fort Stanwix, he and Sir John led the loyalist contingent against 
Herkimer’s column. 

The English trusted him, the Indian who had met the King. 

Someone stepped through the undergrowth and distracted him 
from his thoughts. 

Sir John and McLeod. Along with his new green uniform, the 
Scotsman was still wearing his soft beret. 

“An ugly business,” Johnson said, pale with rage. “Herkimer is 
a hardheaded German — I know him. We’ll have to flush them out 
one at a time.” 

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“We’ve already lost a lot of men,” said Joseph. 

Sir John nodded. 

“So has Herkimer. And he doesn’t know these places as well as we 
do. All he can do is skulk oft in the dark. Many of his men will be 
lost in the forest, but others might make it.” 

“You’ll forgive me, sir,” McLeod cut in. “The same men who 
brought him here can get him out. The Oneida guides are his 

Joseph nodded. According to the information he had collected, 
those Oneida scouts had been repudiated by their tribe; they were 
mercenaries without honor. He had to deal with them too. No one 
would mourn them. 

Captain Butler joined him, followed by his son Walter and the 
chief of the Seneca warriors. Until that moment, his own Indians 
had been watching the clash from the edge of the scrubland. 

“The Senecas are impressed,” he said with a wink, speaking English. 
“They’re saying that today Joseph Brant’s men have demonstrated 
that they don’t fear death.” 

Joseph nodded and replied in the same language, staring at the 
chief of the warrior group. 

“Pass on my words to Sayengaraghta, Captain Butler. Tell him 
that Joseph Brant wants him and his men to stand aside like women 
and witness our courage. That way we won’t have to share the honor 
of this day with anyone.” 

Butler’s mouth twisted into a sneer. The Seneca listened to 
the translation and his jaw stiffened with rage. For a moment he 
looked as if he were about to explode, but Joseph turned his back 
on him. 

He listened to the air. The forest was filled with a grim silence. He 
knew the moment had come. 

He looked into the eyes of the white men, one by one. 

McLeod’s eyes shone with excitement. 

Sir John nodded grimly without a word. 

Butler looked uncertain, unsure that he had understood what the 
others were thinking. With eyes narrowed to slits, he studied the 
Indian’s intentions. 

“The powder isn’t yet dry,” he objected. 

When he received no reply he realized that he had understood 
only too well. His son brandished his hatchet. 

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The old captain plonked his hat on his head. 

“All right, then, damned lunatics. Let’s get it over with.” 

Philip Lacroix hadn’t painted his face, and yet he gave off an air of 
strength and menace. During the first attack he had prevented the 
young men from hurling themselves blindly against the enemy; he 
had restrained their impetuosity and found them good shelters from 
which to bombard the militia. At first the young men had champed 
at the bit and complained, but they had shut up after many warriors 
had fallen in the clearing, mowed down by bullets. Then they had 
started shooting from behind the trees and rocks. 

Philip studied the patch of fir trees where Herkimer’s Oneida 
scouts were entrenched. 

A little while later, about twenty young Mohawks were moving 
silently, led by the Great Devil. 

The howl cut through the moist air. Joseph raised his tomahawk 
and his war-cry joined that of the entire loyalist contingent. The 
signal ran through the forest, repeated from one tree to the next. 

A second chorus rang out on the edge of the scrub. The Senecas 
were going into battle. Sayengaraghta shouted to Joseph Brant 
that he would show him that the Senecas knew how to die. Joseph 
felt pleased and excited. He flung himself forward among the 
trees, Kanatawakhon and Sakihenakenta covering the flanks. As 
he passed, the Volunteers leaped into the open and followed him, 
shouting his name. 

They collided with the first row of militiamen, clutching at 
those who appeared in front of them, and rolled on the ground in a 
cascade of leaves and mud. 

Philip waited until he was at the right distance, where he could 
count the enemy. There were about thirty of them, well armed 
and on guard. They were waiting to see how the battle went before 
deciding what to do. There were women among them, there to carry 
food and ammunition. 

Philip could sense the other warriors’ hatred of the Oneidas. He 
identified the biggest of them, an impressive bulk, then came out 
into the open on his own, armed with mace and knife. The giant saw 
Philip advancing and took up the challenge with broad gestures of 
agreement. Philip dodged his hatchet and stabbed him in the liver. 

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At that moment the Mohawks charged. 

Royathakariyo, his eyes white and frightening in his red-painted 
face, was the first to land in the midst of the enemy, shattering their 
heads with the butt of his rifle. Nobody seemed capable of stopping 
him, until one of the women slipped behind him and plunged a 
knife into his back. 

Oronhyateka, with two hands stamped on his chest like an eagle’s 
wings, hurled himself to the ground and with two clean blows 
slashed the tendons in the calves of several warriors, who fell like 
puppets. Kanenonte reached the woman, who was still brandishing 
her knife, and struck her in the face with his tomahawk. Blood and 
teeth flew through the air. 

Sir John had ordered the Royal Greens wear their uniforms inside 
out, making them less recognizable targets. He gave the command to 
attack and they erupted from their hiding places with bayonets fixed. 

The Highlanders gripped their sabers. Cormac McLeod kissed 
the runic symbols on his hilt. The weapon had belonged to his 
father; the carved marks were put there before the reign of Mary 
Stuart, before there had been a king of England and Scotland, back 
when the secret of strength was passed on through magical formulas 
known only to a few. 

He raised his sword to the sky. 

“ Bualidh mi u an sa chean!” he shouted 

The Scotsmen followed him with the fire of ancient warriors. 

Herkimer looked at the sky again, his soul leaping from his body, 
hanging there long enough to notice that the light was more intense 
and the clouds were thinning out, before plunging back into its cage 
of flesh with a jolt of blinding pain. 

The six men who held him tight opened up like the petals of a 
flower. Van Hoek cauterized the stump with the red-hot blade. 

Herkimer fainted. When he regained consciousness, he realized 
that he could still smell blood and smoke and hear the roar of the 
clash shattering the forest. 

Broken branches, bodies hurled to the ground, cries, quick 
outlines running in all directions. The militiamen shielded the group, 
waving their rifles like clubs, and were immediately challenged by 
Henry Hough and his men. 

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The general felt himself being lifted and dragged away. He could 
still see De Jong retreating from that tangle of rabid dogs, saber in 
hand, shouting orders to the defenders to form an orderly row. Then 
his strength gave out and he let his head fall back. He saw treetops 
passing above him, alternating with thin strips of pale sky. They 
had to resist for a little longer, and the powder would dry. Sounds 
reached him, fainter now, drowned by a soft hum. 

“General Washington,” he murmured. “Today, 7 August, 1777, 1, 
Nicholas Herkimer, general of the Militia of the County of Tryon, 
am writing to your Excellency, calling God as my witness.” On the 
defense line De Jong ran an adversary through and planted a boot 
on his chest to free his blade. An indistinct phalanx of bodies swept 
away plants and earth, splintered bone and bark, spurted blood and 

“Excellency, today the voluntary militiamen of Tryon have 
resisted the ambush of a mixed contingent of loyalists and Indian 
warriors, equal if not greater in number.” 

De Jong parried a lunge from a green-jacketed soldier who had 
managed to cross the line, and with his sword he cleanly slashed his 
throat. He shouted again at the militiamen to close ranks, to not let 
the enemy through. 

“None of them has retreated by so much as a foot. Every patriot 
under my command has struck back, preferring to fall in a mortal 
embrace with the enemy rather than yield ground.” 

De Jong received a blow to the head. The captain doubled over 
and then got back to his feet, blinded by the blood running into 
his eyes. He touched his forehead; the gash had cut through to the 
bone. He managed to pull his sword forward, then fell to his knees. 

“General. Upon my word I ask you to put the militia forward for 
the Congressional Medal of Valor. God save America.” 

De Jong tried to lift his sword, but his arm fell inertly back. The 
lunge left him breathless. The last thing he saw was the runes carved 
into the metal sticking out of his side. 

Oronhyateka was an arrow cleaving the forest. Philip ran parallel 
with him, a few yards behind. He saw him catching up with an 
Oneida, tripping him and making him fall. With a single movement 
he jumped on his back and cut oft his scalp. He brandished it in the 
air, shouting insults at the enemy. 

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37 1 

Four warriors walked backward, lined up to protect a limping 
Oneida. The one in the middle saw Philip and shouted, “You’re 
the Great Devil, I recognized you. I challenge you. I am Honyere 
Tehawengarogwen. Today I have collected twelve scalps. I will kill 
you and everyone will know my name!” 

The last syllable barely had time to leave his lips. Philip leapt 
forward, swinging his mace, a river stone set in a club. He brought it 
down and smashed the warrior’s skull. The sound of bones crushed 
in a mortar. He was aware of a movement in front of him and 
suddenly bent down, and with a kick brought the second Oneida 
to the ground, threw himself on top of him, punched him in the 
throat and immediately rolled away. The third was on top of him, 
but a mace-blow from underneath split his face open. As Philip was 
getting to his feet, the fourth Oneida grazed him with his tomahawk. 
They hurled themselves on top of each other. Philip’s knife opened 
up his abdomen from the groin to the stomach. 

He found himself standing looking into the eyes of the last 
remaining enemy. 

Shononses, the Oneida sachem. 

The old chief was panting, His orenda had been lost in battle, his 
honor dissolved by flight. 

Oronhyateka stood frozen, staring in awe at the Great Devil. The 
whole encounter had taken place in the space of a thought. 

“Kill him!” he shouted. “Kill him, Great Devil!” 

Philip looked at Shononses. The old man was struggling for 
breath, making gurgling noises. His broken ribs had pierced his 
lungs, which were now filling with blood. He tried to rise, tomahawk 
in hand. 

Philip waited till he was standing. 

He lifted the club and struck the old man with all his might. 

Oronhyateka’s shouts greeted the obscene crunch, the cry of a 
wordless animal. 

Kanatawakhon stopped behind a tree, took aim and fired. Joseph 
instinctively quickened his pace, bent beneath the weight of 
Sakihenakenta. His muscles hurt and he was blinded by sweat, but 
he would never leave the warrior’s body to the crows. Sakihenakenta 
had died beside him; he deserved a funeral and a proper burial. He 
couldn’t remember the precise moment when the weapons had 

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started firing again. He had discharged Lord Warwick’s pistols 
against the enemy, so close that you could see the whites of their eyes. 
Bullets whistled between the branches, men fell. The continental 
militia was still resisting. 

If he wanted to be a chief, he had to be wise. 

If he wanted to command, he had to know how to make the right 

He had howled out the clan war cry, which Kanatawakhon 
repeated with all his breath. 

He had done it before the gestures of that bloody day lost their 
meaning, erased by the slaughter. Killing and dying had to retain a 
meaning within the context of war and the cycle of things, or else 
every effort would be in vain and chaos would prevail. 

They reached a hump sheltered by trees and Joseph laid 
Sakihenakenta’s body among the ferns. He turned to look at the 
Volunteers, still firing as they retreated. They were drunk on blood. 
One of them brandished a head as a trophy. 

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20 . 

Aching muscles, torn flesh, bullet holes. Coagulated blood between 
eyes and eyelids, ears thundering. 

For the warriors the day had ended like that, with a roll call of 
fallen, wounded, scattered senses. Exhausted, they had collapsed a 
few miles from the battleground. Groans and snores rose from the 
makeshift beds of branches and blankets. 

Philip sat down on a wet mossy tree trunk, arms folded and 
elbows pressed into his sides, unable to get to sleep. The night 
bathed his skin, the fires were mournful. Impossible to tell whether 
Joseph was awake. 

The sentries were remote presences. On the other side of the 
clearing some other people were awake. Young warriors, too excited 
to sleep. Now and again a phrase breached the air: . .the Oneidas 

thought. . .” . .it’s no longer time to. . .” The sounds of night, 

nothing more. 

Someone was sitting beside him. Philip hadn’t heard footsteps 
on the grass. 

The man spoke in Mohawk, but with an accent that filled Philip 
with unease. His voice was hoarse, a protracted coughing fit. “It’s 
always like this. I remember what I was like after my first battle: I 
could have talked about it for days. Funny: today I remember very 
little about that clash.” 

Philip didn’t reply or turn to see who his waking companion was. 
He went on staring at his feet. 

They stayed silent for several long minutes. Philip curled up and 
hugged himself tighter; he felt cold. On the other side of the camp, 
the voices had died away. The young men had found sleep. 

“I must go now,” said the stranger. “I wish you a good night, Great 

He had spoken in Oneida. 

Philip turned to look at him. 

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Shononses’s head was split, one eye-socket empty, his face covered 
with blood. He got to his feet and disappeared into the night. 

Philip thought: It’s happened at last. I’ve gone mad. 

He picked up a stick and went and poked the embers of the 
nearest fire. The flames flared up, drying the air in one last remnant 
of light. 

In front of Philip, a little girl stretched out her hands to warm 

A little girl. 

Philip knew her. He knew her well. Her lips trembled, her jaw 
held her soul in her voice, tears spilled from her eyes. 

A cut ran across her throat, her clothes were heavy with blood. 

Behind her a woman, in an equally bad way. With one hand she 
stroked the girl’s head and ruffled her hair. 

Philip fell to his knees, arms dangling, crying like a puppy. 

The little girl smiled at him. 

“It isn’t possible,” said Philip, pleading with his wife and daughter. 
“You died long ago.” 

The little girl walked over and held out her hands. She wanted her 
father to take her in his arms. 

Philip wanted to do it. He wished he could. He had longed to do so 
for years, with all his strength. Not a night had passed when he hadn’t 
dreamed of hugging her again. The warrior’s face, ravaged with tears, 
mobilized itself into a smile, a desperate smile, Come, my child, come, 
but her mother called her back: “Tet’s go, darling. Tet’s go.” 

The little girl waved to her father. Philip’s heart burst. Mother 
and daughter walked away hand in hand. 

The fire went on burning. 

Had it been a bad dream? 

The worst of his life. 

The worst of anyone’s life, of all lives all together. 

Philip stood up again, wiped his eyes with his sleeve. A sob shook 
his throat, and the night was colder than ever, even beside the fire. 

A hand settled lightly on his shoulder. 

Philip turned and saw Sir William. 

The old man was almost transparent, incorporeal. He was 
smiling, paternal, sad. 

With him was an austere-looking gentleman, solid, as opaque as a 
living being, nothing about him that suggested death. 

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Apart from his broken leg, still spilling blood. 

He managed to say upright with a crutch. 

Sir William said good-bye with a jerk of his chin. Time to go. 

He left with the stranger. Philip gazed after them as far as the 
edge of the clearing. 

They vanished, and did not reappear. 

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21 . 

The good of the Six Nations. Everyone wanted it. Each word was 
said for the good of the Six Nations. Each initiative was put forward 
for the good of the Six Nations. 

The Six Nations had to live. To live, they had to heal the ill of 
betrayal. To heal, they had to purge themselves and expel the 
traitors, poisonous excrement that twisted the guts. The traitors 
were the Oneidas. A strike against the Oneidas was necessary. 

That was the position of the young Mohawk warriors. Kanenonte 
set it out heatedly, his eyes full of tears, beating his bruised chest, 
among deafening cries of “Oyeh!” 

Joseph listened in silence. In the past he would have translated 
those curses for the benefit of the whites. No longer. What was 
being spoken was a universal language, the language of hatred and 
revenge. It is spoken with the eyes, the wrinkles on the forehead, the 
folds around the lips, the movement of arms and legs. It was spoken 
with the drops of blood that spilled from freshly stitched wounds. 
It was spoken with fingers clenched into a fist, with gritted teeth 
and tears. No one would raise a hand to interrupt and say, “I didn’t 

Joseph’s head was a hive of doubts. There was a little Oneida 
village, no more than a hundred inhabitants, a mile away. Old 
people, women, children. The suggestion was that it should be 
sacked. For the good of the Six Nations. 

Oronhyateka took the floor: the Oneidas had guided Herkimer’s 
rebels and fought alongside them, against the warriors of the People 
of the Flint. They weren’t just a few outcasts, as they had believed at 
first, but some of the most able-bodied men of that nation, and even 
one of their sachems. They had been stirred up by Kirkland, and had 
backed the thieves of Indian land, the rabble that contemptuously 
violated Warraghiyagey’s house. 

Joseph studied Sir John Johnson’s expression, but the face of Sir 

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William’s heir was indecipherable. Beside him, Daniel Claus stared 
into the void. 

Joseph tried to imagine their thoughts. In Oriskany, Indians 
and white volunteers had passed the test of battle and sowed terror 
among the enemies. They had played their part. Even Herkimer 
must be dead, or dying. That was good. No reinforcements for 
the rebels besieged at Fort Stanwix. It was time for Colonel St. 
Leger and His Majesty’s army to finish the job and head all the 
way to Albany. As long as the siege didn’t last too long. If they 
didn’t take Fort Stanwix, the victory of Oriskany would prove to 
be pointless. 

A skirmish between Indians was the least concern of Claus and 
Sir John. If it really couldn’t be avoided, they saw it as a small price 
to pay, a peripheral incident. A toll to travel along that road, like the 
ones imposed in Europe. The treachery of the Oneidas was a sore 
to be cut out and cauterized as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the 
pus of rancor would swell it and make it rot. The infection would 
spread into open war, the Mohawks would waste lives and energies 
killing other Indians rather than fighting the Whigs. So, let them 
get on with it. 

And Joseph? What decision would he make? 

On the other side of the circle of men, John Butler stood with 
his arms folded, leaning against a tree. Sitting a few yards away was 
Walter, impatient and irritated. For the Butlers, “finishing the job” 
meant freeing the rest of their family, still prisoners of the Whigs. 
For Walter, sitting around talking about Indian honor was a waste 
of time, while his mother and brothers rotted in prison, victims of 
unnamed abuses. You could read it in his face. He pulled out blades 
of grass and tore them to mush. His fingertips were green. 

Oronhyateka went on: the Oneidas had allied themselves with 
cowards who had been stealing the lands of the Mohawks for years, 
by means of deceit and in defiance of the law. The Oneidas would be 
punished. Immediately, without waiting. In the name of the Great 
Peace, of the honor of the Fonghouse, the spirit of Sakihenakenta, 
Royathakariyo and the rest of the fallen. 

“Oyeh! Oyeh! Oyeh!” 

Someone asked the opinion of the white men present. 

Cormac McFeod said it was a matter for Indians. The Highlanders 
wanted to be left out; they would neither support nor prevent a 

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37 » 


reprisal. As Scotsmen, they knew what a war between clans could 
be. Someone else would have to get it over with as they saw fit. 

Henry Hough stood up and said that he and the other Volunteers 
would follow Joseph Brant, whatever decision was taken. 

Everyone looked at Joseph, waiting for him to speak, but he didn’t. 
With a nod he communicated detachment, waiting, listening. He 
looked at Butler for a moment. The man from Fort Niagara didn’t 
return his glance. 

No other white man spoke. 

In the name of the Senecas, Sayengaraghta took the floor. He 
spoke solemnly. He said that his warriors had come to Oriskany 
only to see, but in the rage of battle they had had to unite with their 
Mohawk brothers. He said that much blood of many brave men had 
been spilled, that the Senecas had been impressed by the warrior 
honor of the Mohawks and their friends. He added that the memory 
of such a fine battle could not be sullied by irresolution only a day 
later. One of the nations in the League had behaved contemptibly. 
The younger brothers had raised their tomahawks and lit their 
powder against the elder brothers. Senecas and Mohawks were 
guardians of the doors of the Longhouse. Together, they would 
fulfill their duty and punish the traitors, unworthy to remain under 
that roof. The Oneida village would be razed for the good of the Six 

Joseph listened, weighed things, reflected. He saw the Great 
Devil get to his feet, reach the front row and lay in the center of the 
circle the mace that had killed Shononses. 

“The traitors died in the field. Revenge has already been taken.” 

The silence was absolute. Philip added nothing else, sat down 
apart from the rest and filled his pipe. Astonished questions slipped 
from one head to the next, with no need for answers. Oronhyateka’s 
arms fell to his sides; in his eyes was the incredulous expression of 
someone who has received a stab in the back rather than an embrace. 
The Senecas seemed divided between repulsion and respect. 

Joseph looked at his friend and thought that in his place he would 
have done the same thing. No Longhouse warrior had ever spilled 
the blood of a sachem. If there was a man who had settled his scores 
with the Oneida in battle, his name was Philip Lacroix. 

The deciding vote in the Six Nations belonged to the chief. A 
question for Joseph Brant, the Indian of the Department who had 

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ceased to be a mere interpreter. No longer was he to report, adapt, 
embellish the words of others. The words most keenly awaited were 
his own. 

If he didn’t support revenge, he would wound the pride of the 
warriors and displease the Senecas. Everything would start to 
collapse. He had to declare his satisfaction with their proposal. 

He had to show that he was up to the task he had taken on. 

He rose to his feet and picked up Philip’s weapon. 

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22 . 

The first to arrive were the Royal Greens and the Canadian Indians. 

From the battlements of the fort, Esther watched the green- 
uniformed infantrymen passing below. They must be yearning for a 
bed and a fire. Some of them had arms in slings or bandaged heads. 
Others were carried on makeshift stretchers. At their head rode Sir 
John, on a black Holstein. He gave the party on the battlements 
a fleeting glance. His face showed his exhaustion; his jacket was 
dusty from the long march. Uncle Daniel followed a short distance 
behind him, at the edge of the column; he too was on horseback. 
Aunt Nancy was waiting for him at the entrance to the fort; he 
leaned down and they exchanged a quick hug. 

That night, Esther heard them deep in conversation. Uncle 
Daniel was talking about a furious battle, beyond Lake Oneida. 
Almost two hundred men on each side had been killed, and 
many others injured. The besieged rebels in Fort Stanwix had 
taken advantage of this to make a sortie against the British camp, 
raiding it and taking prisoners. As if that weren’t enough, rumors 
had circulated that a second rebel contingent was coming to 
reinforce those besieged. These reinforcements had discouraged 
the Indians, who had decided to go home. St. Leger had lifted the 
siege to reorganize his forces. 

The next afternoon the regulars arrived. An orderly scarlet rank 
emerged from the track along the river, and pairs of mules dragged 
cannon and supplies. Colonel St. Leger didn’t look at any of the 
bystanders who had come out onto the level ground to welcome 
him. He made straight for the parade ground and then for the 
officers’ quarters, followed by Captain Claus and Sir John. 

Esther came down from the battlements with eyes burning from 
studying the horizon all day. She forgot to say her prayers and let 
her thoughts fly toward the hinterland, that marsh of water and 
forest that restored men a little at a time, never all together, rarely 

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all together. She tried to force herself to dream, but found only brief 
and agitated sleep. 

Joseph Brants Volunteers arrived two days later. Their silent march 
crossed the rising sun. Their leader rode a gray mare. When he passed 
beneath her, Esther recognized him: his scarlet jacket with its captains 
stripes, the flag of the realm hanging below the saddle, his bald head 
with its long, feathered tuft. And the features of Joseph Brant, huge 
and impressive, as if his face had been molded into a mask. 

He was followed by John Butler, grim and ghostly. Walter wasn’t 
there. That evening Esther would learn that Butler s son had hurled 
himself into an insane undertaking: going down the Mohawk River 
with a few other men, in search of hostages to take and exchange for 
his mother and brothers, still prisoners in Albany. 

Many of the white Volunteers were dressed in the Indian manner, 
with war-paint on their faces and scalps around their belts. They 
smelled of wild animals and putrid meat. They were weary predators. 
One of them carried under his arm a bloody sack, besieged by 
insects. Esther didn’t want to imagine what it might contain. 

The fresh evening air slipped through the folds of her clothes. It 
was the last day of August, and soon autumn would be licking at the 
lake. The banks would be tinted with yellow and orange, waiting 
for the north wind to sweep the land and prepare it for the first 
snow. Again Esther thought of Uncle Daniel’s words: that strategic 
withdrawal, as he had called it, meant that he wouldn’t see his 
home again before next year. Aunt Nancy had asked if he would be 
spending the winter in Oswego. 

“No,” Uncle Daniel had replied. “We’re going back to Montreal 
with Sir John and his men.” 

“And the Indians?” 

“They’re going to Fort Niagara with Butler.” 

The survivors of the expedition were keeping a secret. Something 
terrible must have happened on the Mohawk River. Something that 
had changed them forever, something that could also change their 

She didn’t sleep a wink that night. She felt that he was alive, and 
that he would come. A voice in her mind suggested that he might be 
dead, but she didn’t believe it. 

Shortly before dawn she fell into a disturbed sleep. She dreamed 
of the reflection of the leaves on the water, the prow of a boat 

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cleaving the waters of the lake. She suddenly woke up and knew 
where to go and look. 

Taking care not to be heard by Aunt Nancy or the servants, she 
crept out. Wrapped in her shawl, her hair tucked under her big white 
bonnet, she crossed the camp in the faint light that preceded dawn. 
She passed among the tents and shacks, animated by the day’s first 
coughs and grumbles. Later that day, rumors of a ghost wandering 
among the bivouacs would run through the camp. She walked 
quickly and silently down to the dock. The ships were sleeping 
giants, their bellies lapped by the waves. 

On the deck she saw two figures facing one another. They were 
exchanging words that couldn’t reach her. When one of the two 
moved away, Esther hid below the wooden pillars and waited for 
his steps to pass over her. Peering out, she recognized Joseph Brant, 
wearing the same harsh expression as when he had arrived the day 

She quickly reached the end of the jetty, where the other man was 
boarding a dinghy. 

When Philip Lacroix became aware of her presence, he turned 
and looked at her grimly. 

Esther glanced at Joseph Brant, who was heading back toward the 
fort. She looked at the boat. 

“Where are you going?” 

Philip removed the cover from the rolled-up sail. 

“Where my people will go. To Fort Niagara.” 

“Take me with you,” she said without hesitation. 

Philip stopped inspecting the bottom of the boat in search of 
seepage and raised his head. He stared at her, as if to assess her 

“You must stay with your family.” 

“My mother is dead. My father is a thousand miles away. My 
sisters are like strangers. In London, every time I thought of coming 
back, it wasn’t for anyone still alive. Apart from you.” 

Philip seemed not to want to listen to her anymore. He went 
back up on deck, untied the rope that moored the boat and began 
unrolling it. 

“I beg you. They want to bring me back to Montreal,” she added. 

“In Canada you will be safe.” 

“I was safe in London, but I decided to come back.” 

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“Perhaps you shouldn’t have,” said Philip. “Now go back to your 
family, before they get alarmed.” 

He jumped into the boat and pushed an oar against the jetty 

Esther saw him drifting by yards toward the open water, in the 
calm rhythm of the low tide. 

She looked down, then again at the horizon. Her eyes caught the 
light of the dawning day. The breeze lifted the edges of her bonnet, 
which couldn’t contain her long blond hair. The boat slowed down. 

She jumped. 

A cold, mute darkness enveloped her, took her breath away, 
compressed her lungs, contracted her legs and arms. 

Esther reemerged and tried to swim, but no one had ever taught 
her how. She sank again, the horizon disappeared and reappeared, 
she groped around, swallowed water. The weight of her clothes 
dragged her toward the bottom, her muscles were rigid with cold, 
and her cape opened up like a flower in the lake. A clothed statue, 
the pale figurehead of a shipwreck. 


In a crevice in her mind a woman’s voice spoke her name. 


She opened her eyes and moved them upward, and began kicking 
her way toward the surface, fighting the invisible force that dragged 
her down. She emerged once more into the air, into sounds, into 
light, into light and a convulsion of vomiting. With a sob, she 
started breathing again and coughing. She grabbed the implement 
that had hooked her clothes, and a hand gripped her and dragged 
her into the boat. 

She coughed again, vomited more water. 

Her breathing became regular, and she looked at the man from 
under her wet locks. Philip’s expression betrayed no emotion. 

Esther watched the shore moving further away: they weren’t 
turning back. A profound relief flooded her heart, as her teeth 
began loudly chattering. 

He threw her a rolled-up fur. 

“Take oft your clothes and wrap yourself in this.” 

The girl hesitated, torn between modesty and the fear of 
pneumonia. Without saying anything more, Philip unrolled the sail 
and placed it between them, allowing it to swell in the breeze. 

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3 8 4 


The boat began to gather speed. Esther quickly undressed and 
huddled in the warm fur, which came down to her feet. 

She studied the surface of the lake and saw the leaves reflected 
in it as they had been in her dream the previous night. They sailed 
along the lake’s southern coast, followed by the rays of the sun. 
Herons and grebes, patrolling the shores in search of food, raised 
their heads to watch them pass. Crouching in the bows, she peeped 
out from the dark fur while she waited for its calm warmth to fill 
her body and her soul. Her ears burned; her toes and fingers started 
moving again, one at a time. 

Philip’s voice broke the silence. 

“You could have died.” 

“I knew you wouldn’t allow that to happen,” she replied. 

“You think you know too much.” 

Esther shook her head. 

“I’m here to find my place.” 

“Then you should have gone to Montreal with the Johnsons.” 

The girl looked into the west, beyond the prow. 

“I’m Sir William’s granddaughter. I’m going where he would have 

The following day they docked by a settlement of Cayuga 
fishermen. Philip exchanged a few words with them: they wanted 
to know about the battle of Oriskany, and about Fort Stanwix. One 
of them asked about the Great Devil. Philip said that as far as he 
knew, le (liable had fallen in battle. The news impressed them, and 
made them quiet. They smoked a pipe in honor of the celebrated 
warrior. Philip bartered a tin of tobacco for a dress and a pair of very 
high-quality moccasins. He slept on the dock, leaving the boat to 
Esther, and next morning, when he embarked again, he found her 
already wearing the new clothes. She had also braided her hair and 
was sitting at the front of the boat, brandishing an oar. 

Philip stopped to look at her, then climbed on board and took 
the tiller. 

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23 . 

Molly stuck a stone under the door of the general store, so that the wind 
wouldn’t close it. Full summer, the sun had been away for only a few 
hours, and dawn split the night before the darkness could thicken and 
weigh down upon your shoulders. At six in the morning, the shining 
gilded disk, with its clear outlines, already hovered a couple of inches 
above the wind-shaken forest. It was still a pale fire; the eye could gaze 
upon it without pain. An hour later the light would wound the eye. 

Molly raised her hands above her head and breathed. Another day 
was beginning in Canajoharie. During the night she had heard gunfire 
in the distance. Just beyond the horizon, dim lights, perhaps fires, an 
Oneida incursion. Revenge fed revenge, brother attacked brother, the 
farms were going up in flames. There was no brand for contagions 
like that, no inoculation that could defend body and soul. Maybe the 
fever had to run its full course, scorch the flesh, spark hallucinations. 
Afterward, there would have to be a council, to be held at the center 
of the Longhouse. Soon she would send a message to the sachems of 
the Onondaga, guardians of the sacred flame. 

She was about to go back inside when she noticed a movement 
and turned around. 

She saw them at the end of the path. Five of them, one behind the 
other, still a long way oft. Perhaps militiamen. 

For some time the Whigs hadn’t set foot in the village. No one 
had been troubled: Herkimer had kept his promise. But Herkimer 
had died in the battle of Oriskany. Died without one of his legs, his 
blood turned to pus. God only knew where he was now. God knew 
if he had already met William. 

They were coming for her, she was sure of it. To tell her something, 
or do something to her. The men were all far away; she couldn’t call 
to them. Not with her voice. 

She sighed and decided to wait in the doorway, arms folded. 

* * * 

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As the crow flies, more than two hundred miles separated Johannes 
Tekarihoga from his village. After the council of Oswego, the 
sachem — too old to fight at Fort Stanwix, too weary from the hard 
journey to go straight back to Canajoharie — had stopped at Fort 
Niagara. A wise decision. When he got there, he had been welcomed 
with open arms by his dearest relation, his most indulgent friend, 
his most solicitous friend: rum. 

In the room inside the fort, dazed and lying on a camp bed, the 
old Mohawk studied the dark ceiling and enjoyed the silence of 
early morning. Age and alcohol confined his sleep to a few uneasy 
hours. The summer nights were filled with talk and song, clouds of 
sound fluttered around the bivouacs, mixing with the smoke from 
the fires. Through the open windows, reverberations of words and 
the barking of dogs rode in on the quiet gusts of wind. Toward dawn 
everything grew quiet, waiting for the changing of the guard: the 
noises of night made way for those of day. 

Toe! Toe! Toe! 

Tekarihoga turned toward the window. A woodpecker, black 
feathers and red crest, banged its beak against a wooden post. 

Toe! Toe! Toe! 

He got up from the bed. The joints of his body creaked, and at 
the base of his spine a cluster of muscles wailed. His head was heavy, 
his tongue stirred in a mouth that felt as if it were stuffed with dung. 

Toe! Toe! Toe! 

Tekarihoga approached the bird. 

“You’ve come for me.” 

The woodpecker raised its beak, turned his head this way and 
that, moved away from the post and fluttered its wings but didn’t 
take flight. 

“You have come for this poor old man, you knew where you 
would find him. You knew he had nothing to do, and would listen.” 

The woodpecker started hammering its beak again. 

Toe! Toe! Toe! 

A little group of irregulars. There was also a Delaware, wearing a 
strange dappled beret. Certainly not summer headgear. 

The first in the line was Jonas Klug. He had been thrown out of 
the militia by General Herkimer himself, but he still gave himself 
the airs of a patriot. 

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When he came face to face with her, the German spoke. His 
voice was a saw scratching marble. “So are you satisfied now, Indian 

Molly said nothing. 

“We know, you red whore, that you informed that pig your 
brother, the one who had me attacked in my own home two years 
ago. Many brave patriots died in Oriskany. Pray to your savage god 
to keep us from killing you here like a dog, in front of your fine 

“Why don’t you do it?’ asked Molly. 

Klug frowned. The woman’s lips hadn’t moved. The voice had 
come from another direction. From behind. No, from above. The 
men, startled, looked around, and some of them quickly raised 
their rifles, ready to aim them at any new arrivals, but there was 
no one. The worried murmur was interrupted by Klug: “Silence!” 
Then he confronted the woman. “Do you think you can scare me 
with your tricks? I don’t know how you do it, but I guarantee 
that. . .” 

“Go away.” 

This time there was no doubt: the voice had come from behind, 
and it was a man’s voice. Klug had to turn around. 

The drunken old chief. Tekarihoga. But hadn’t he left with the 
others ? 

Legs spread, arms dangling along his sides. He looked sober. 

Klug remembered him as shorter and more bent. 

They aimed their rifles at him, but the old man ignored them. He 
stared into Klug’s eyes. 

The German turned to Molly Brant: “You should tell Grandfather 
that. . .” 

The eyes of William Johnson’s widow were red with rage, her lips 
tensed and white. She was trembling. Klug followed her eyes: the 
target of her hatred was the Delaware. 

What the hell was happening ? 

The Mohawk woman looked at the hat. She looked at his hands. She 
looked at the tobacco pouch hanging from his belt. 

The Indian felt he was being read, line by line. Like a book. 

Like an intercepted letter. 

The woman was inside his head. “That hat was once a dog . ” 

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The Delaware opened his eyes wide, opened his mouth, staggered. 

“Can someone tell me what’s happening?” shrieked Klug. 

“ That pouch was once a man of the People of the Flint” 

The Delaware turned toward Nathaniel Gordon, his chief, as if 
asking for help. 

Gordon ignored him, his eyes fixed on the leather pouch, his 
mind divided in two by a thread of saliva. 

“ His name was Samuel Waterhridge. Your hands removed his skin, 
scrap by scrap!’ 

Gordon cried out. It was the last thing the Delaware heard before 
he fainted. 

The cutthroats exchanged frightened glances and began lowering 
their weapons. 

“What are you doing? Have you lost your minds ?” shouted Klug, 
before turning to Nathaniel Gordon and the rest of his gang. “Do we 
want to be stopped by an old man and a charlatan? Tet your trained 
Indian sleep — let’s go into this latrine and smash everything. Tet the 
savages know what happens to people who spy!” 

No one replied, no one moved. 

Molly Brant stretched out an arm and pointed with her finger at 
a field, a patch of level ground on the edge of the village. 

“Jonas Klug, your head will roll on that grass.” 

The German gulped. A big lump of spit and dust pressed against 
the walls of his throat. 

“Go now. Don’t come back to Canajoharie. As for you,” and she 
pointed at Nathaniel Gordon, “you, too, will die. You will feel all 
the pain of this land. Your agony will leave no room for a single 
moment of dignity.” 

Klug took a step forward and was about to raise his fist, but 
someone gripped his wrist. 

The old man. His grip was powerful. 

“ Go away" he repeated. His voice came from a long way off 

Klug could barely keep from throwing up. 

Molly was exhausted, drained. She had never done anything like 
that. She slumped onto her favorite sofa. 

Back at the fort, Tekarihoga slumped onto the camp bed. The 
woodpecker had flown away. 

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“Thank you, woman,” he said. “May the Master of Life protect 
you always.” 

Before the smile had curved his lips, the old sachem was asleep. 

Canajoharie was no longer a safe place. They would return in 
great numbers: the irregulars, the Oneidas, everybody, together or 
separately. The determination of a sachem and a witch’s reputation 
were not defense enough. She would leave, taking with her anyone 
willing to follow her. Women and children. They would leave on 
foot, along the hidden paths of the forest, because the river was 
dangerous now. They had to reach Onondaga. There, Molly would 
speak to the sachems, she would tell them everything. She would 
leave the women and children in safety and go on her way. 

Reach Fort Niagara. With William’s help she would do it. 

They waited in the store until the sun had risen, then they left. 
Molly and Betsy led about fifteen of the women out of the village, 
including Juba and two other slaves, three old men still capable 
of the walk, and ten children, the oldest led by the hand and the 
youngest carried on their backs, sleeping or awake. 

Taking only the leather bottles filled with water and the bags of 
fruit and dried meat, they left all they owned in Canajoharie so that 
they could walk in the forest unencumbered, push branches aside 
with both arms, avoid holes, step over tree roots. 

Just before they entered the wood, Betsy called to her mother. 
Molly turned around. They were on the hill; you could see the 
whole village. 

“Mother. . .” 

“Yes, Betsy?” 

“Look. There’s a light on in the store.” 

It was true. When they had closed the door behind them, the 
store had been in total darkness. 

The Whigs, or their spies, had wasted no time. 

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24 . 

They marched on long paths hidden among the trees, led by the most 
powerful woman in the village. They trusted her: they had placed 
their lives in her hands. They read signs where a white man would 
have seen nothing, they picked the fruits of the forest, stopping 
when the weakest of them ran out of breath. In the clearings the 
heat was turning the grass yellow, but beneath the roof of branches 
the air was cool and the bushes soft, and all that could be seen of the 
sun was splashes of light, covering the earth with gold freckles. How 
long had they been walking? 

On the evening of the third day they had met a Tuscarora hunter. 
He had emerged from a hole in the long grass and greeted the 
convoy with raised arms, his voice thick with sleep. Molly knew 
him; he had been to the general store several times, bartering skins 
for other goods. 

“Don’t go to Onondaga, Degonwadonti. It’s a ghost town.” 

“What happened?” 

“Smallpox passed from body to body, swift as an arrow. Streets 
and houses are full of corpses, covered with flies and ants. The 
survivors went west.” 

A murmur of dismay ran through the people of Canajoharie. 

“What about the sacred fire?” asked Molly. 

“It went out,” the hunter replied. “The guardians died. Don’t go 
to Onondaga, Molly Brant. Follow your way.” 

Onondaga abandoned. The sacred fire extinguished after five 
thousand moons. A crevasse, wide and deep, was swallowing up the 
history of the Six Nations. 

“How do you know this ? Have you been there?” someone asked. 

“No, but I believe the one who told me. And you, too, will believe 
me. Go on walking westward, and by dawn you will smell the stench 
of death.” 

The hunter was right. When the sky between the branches 

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39 1 

grew lighter, the sweetish stink suddenly fell upon them. It was 
like an ambush: where the trees thinned out, a pestiferous breeze 
ran through the forest, bringing to their noses and mouths news 
of swollen bodies, exhalations, worms sucking rotten flesh. The 
creeping militia of Smallpox. 

They didn’t approach the town. Because they didn’t want to sleep 
near the carnage, they marched until the sun was high. Sleep came 
down on them, but managed to take them only after many chaotic 

Molly woke up. They had to march as far as Fort Niagara, with 
women, old people, and children, some of them very young. She 
asked Warraghiyagey to give her strength, and to send her a sign. 

In the afternoon, on the path they had just walked down, she 
heard footsteps and breaking branches. She grabbed a rifle and 
darted to her feet. 

A woman and two children emerged from the forest. They were 
Oneidas. They saw Molly and gave a start. The woman bent down 
and shielded the children with her own body. 

“Don’t shoot! We know you, you’re Molly Brant from 
Canajoharie. We’re going to Canadaigua, to our Seneca relations. 
We’re afraid of the war. We have nothing against the Mohawks, 
you’re our big sister.” 

Molly lowered the weapon. She had asked for a sign and perhaps 
she had just had it. 

“We’re going to Fort Niagara. You can travel with us.” 

The woman’s name was Aleydis, her daughters were Myrtle and 

Aleydis had learned of the end of Onondaga from a Protestant 
missionary, shortly after she left Canowaroghare. According to him, 
the sacred fire had not been extinguished because of the epidemic; 
the guardians had decided to snuff it out until Mohawks and 
Oneidas stopped killing one another. Molly had many doubts about 
this version of events, but took it as part of the sign sent by William: 
the Six Nations had to go on their way together. 

They left at sunrise. Molly led the convoy toward Fort Niagara, 
toward Thayendanegea, leaving death behind her. 

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25 . 

Half a mile away from the fort, snakes of smoke twitched in the 
wind beneath a clouded sky. 

The bark boats were steered to a patch of level ground and 
moored between mud-caked wicker stakes. 

Seen from the street it looked like a Seneca village, not very 
different from many that Molly had passed through on the way. 
They would have to get near enough to make out people’s features 
to tell what kind of place it really was. They saw weary, scratched 
faces, bent backs, hurried gestures, eyes opened wide to conceal 
exhaustion. A group of crows wandered among the fires, and dirty, 
frightened children pressed cobs of maize protectively to their 
chests. Three years before, in another land, they would have put 
grains in their palms and invited the birds to peck from their hands. 
Puppies didn’t roll around with the human children, but nervously 
followed their pack, hoping for scraps. Spades and hoes rusted, 
forgotten behind the sheds. Everywhere there were bits of smashed 
boxes, pots scattered around the hearths, barrels, tangles of rope, 
rotten tree trunks, piles of wet sawdust, puddles as big as pools. 

A refugee camp, where even the spirit of man became provisional. 

Cries of welcome rose up from the bivouacs, sounding shrill 
above the barking of the dogs and the muted thunder that echoed 
over the lake. Tears and smiles gave her a taste of a homecoming, as 
if Canajoharie were being reborn, four hundred miles to the west. 
As if the river, the maize fields, the pines on the hills, the graves of 
the ancestors, were a limb that could be severed from the body of 
the nation without killing it. 

Molly’s eyes slipped from one family to the other, reconstructing 
their stories — struggles, births and marriages. Molly remembered 
them all, when they had gone and what they had left behind — apart 
from one well-groomed young girl who watched motionless from 
the door of a shack. She was white, certainly the only white in the 

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whole camp, and her big, clear eyes had a familiar expression. On 
her right wrist, the girl wore a bracelet. Too far away for Molly to see 
the design, but she didn’t need to. Her other senses told her: Philip 
Lacroix’s adoption wampum. 

Molly noticed that the voices had fallen silent. The Mohawk 
womens eyes were cold; they exuded menace. One of them spat on 
the ground. 

“Degonwadonti, I see that you bring us a gift of the wives and 
daughters of traitors.” The woman came and stood in front of the 
Oneidas with her legs wide. “For too long we have eaten no meat. 
Two young hearts will be fine.” 

Aleydis held her gaze, her body trembling. 

Molly’s laughter swept the camp like autumn wind. “Fm here 
now: the rations will be adequate. What Canajoharie family has 
no Oneida relations ? For me, the Law still holds, and these are my 
sisters. They will share the bitter days that we endure, and when our 
people win, they will celebrate with us. This is what I have to say.” 

Molly looked around. There was a terrifying smile on her lips, and 
a storm in her eyes. There were murmurs of approval. The hungry 
woman waved her hand, turned her back and left. 

The mad woman’s attention turned toward a cart coming up from 
the lake. In the confusion of voices she made out phrases, women 
wishing each other a cargo of provisions and clothes, men already 
tasting rum in anticipation. 

The cart reached the first shacks. Under the tarpaulin, everyone 
imagined boxes and barrels piled up willy nilly. The children hid 
among the legs of the adults, immediately followed by the dogs. 
Molly recognized John Butler sitting on the coachman’s seat, though 
he looked much older than she remembered. Beside him was an 
English officer, a black three-cornered hat balanced on his head. 
They came forward as far as the press of bodies allowed, and then 
Butler pulled the reins, got to his feet and spoke in a tired voice. 

“Listen. Colonel Bolton and I have come to bring greetings to 
Molly Brant, in the name of the Indian Department and the Fort 
Niagara garrison. Her arrival is a precious event for which we are all 
most grateful, and it is our wish that she should be duly celebrated. 
The Great English Father has granted you a richer cargo than usual. 
In it you will find sausages, smoked salmon, biscuits and rum.” 
Butler silenced the cries of enthusiasm, cleared his throat, and 

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continued. “News has reached me that the last cargo provoked great 
confusion, with shameful episodes that do you no honor. For that 
reason I order that only five men remain to empty the cart, and that 
all the others return to their own business until we have left.” 

With muttered protests, the people of Canajoharie left the 
square, while five strong young men untied the ropes of the cargo. 
Molly thought that she had never seen her people so enslaved to the 
alms of the white men. 

John Butler jumped to the ground, along with the English officer. 

“It’s really a relief to have you here,” he began. “Your people have 
dispersed, and order must be reinstated.” 

“I am glad to see you, too. Have you news of your wife and 

The captain shook his head. 

“No, unfortunately. And there’s worse. The Whigs have captured 
Walter, too. My whole family is in chains.” 

“I’m very sorry to hear that. The war takes us away from our loved 
ones. For two years I have not seen my son or my brother.” 

“Joseph is here at the fort. We have rooms and provisions for you 
as well.” 

The dark belly of the clouds hung low over the shacks, where 
women and children stood staring at the mountain of boxes rising 
up in the middle of the camp. Ann’s voice cried Mama at the sound 
of a clap of thunder. 

“Thank you,” said Molly. “I accept your hospitality.” 

“You’re welcome,” Colonel Bolton quickly replied, then turned, 
saw that the men had finished their work, and waved them away. 

The first drops of water wet the earth. Molly turned to look at the 
white girl, but the door of her shack was shut. 

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26 . 

For more than two years Joseph had been a sheet of paper, a rough 
scribble, a presence to be traced in dreams. Two years of voiceless 
words, bodiless meetings, questions still unanswered. His voice had 
become crisper, as if dried by drought. His face looked the same — 
only the hair at his temples had whitened slightly. New questions 
put the past in the shade. 

The room was modest. A camp bed, two stools, a stout table, 
a narrow window. Joseph wore a woolen jacket and trousers; 
there was a black handkerchief round the neck of his shirt. 
He hugged her and then immediately asked for news from 

Molly sat on one of the stools and rubbed her aching legs. 

“Since Herkimer died, no one has been keeping tabs on the 
rebels,” she replied. “Staying was too dangerous.” 

Joseph’s face darkened. 

“How is the war going?” Molly asked. 

“Not well. General Burgoyne was defeated in Saratoga. The 
Canadian offensive failed. We’ll be forced to winter here, while the 
front moves south.” 

A thoughtful silence followed. The noises of the camp were far 

Then Molly spoke again. 

“The Sacred Fire went out.” 

Her brother checked a movement of rage. 

“The Longhouse is falling to pieces,” he said. “The Oneidas are 
with the rebels and the Tuscaroras are succumbing to the same 
temptation. God’s curse be upon them.” 

“Your wife and children are Oneidas. Will you have them brought 
here ?” 

“They’re already on the way.” 

Joseph went to the little window and looked out. 

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“Only fear can make the settlers retreat,” he continued. “If we 
want to take the valley back, we will have to isolate them, leave them 
without food or air.” 

Molly sensed the urgency hovering about his words. She saw 
blood drench the forest. The frontier would become a battlefield. 
If that was what awaited them, they would have to prepare for even 
harder times. 

“Strange signs mark our days; it isn’t easy to interpret them. Why 
is Esther Johnson here?” 

“She came with Philip,” Joseph replied. “She lives hidden at the 
camp. She doesn’t want the white men to send her to Montreal.” 

“And where is he ?” 

Joseph pointed outside. “Still in the woods, hunting. The Senecas 
conceded their lands as long as he led the strikes. They tell strange 
stories about him. They say he doesn’t sleep at night and in the 
morning he comes back to the bivouac with huge amounts of booty.” 
He sat down again and looked at his sister. “Something has changed 
in him. It happened after Oriskany, after he killed Shononses.” 

“I knew about that. Ronaterihonte has many ghosts walking 
beside him.” 

Joseph touched her shoulder. 

“Your eyes have changed as well. There’s something my sister 
hasn’t told me.” 

Molly’s face hardened. 

“My children and I have been subjected to insults and threats.” 

“Who was it?” 

“Jonas Klug.” 

Joseph’s jaw tightened. 

Molly closed her eyes and let hatred burst from her heart. 

“I dreamed of kicking his head. I dreamed you brought it to me 
as a present.” 

She saw her brother’s muscles contracting. 

“The day will come.” 

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27 . 

“Play for us, sir. That Irish jig, or something else, so that we can 

Sergeant Bunyan’s face was gaunt and exhausted. His voice was 
slightly thick with alcohol. The old soldier could endure forced 
marches, inadequate food, moonshine liquor: his constitution was 
equal to every ordeal, as long as it wasn’t deprived of music or pay. 

Colonel Percey had distributed the rum. The rebels, with George 
Washington at their head, were retreating toward Philadelphia, 
with His Majesty’s army in hot pursuit. The alcohol dulled pain, it 
blunted hunger, it spread a blanket over weary bodies, it made the 
men sing and dance, laugh and weep. 

Peter had no wish to play. He set down his own cup, still full of 
yellowish liquid that contained an implicit order: Be happy. 

“Go for An Faire, Mr. Bunyan.” Peter took his first sip and went 
on. “Tet me tell you one thing, Mr. Bunyan: if you really want to 
dance, you are a man of steel.” 

Bunyan took the standard bearer’s words as a compliment. His 
mouth formed a girlish smile that seemed out of place on his rough 
face, already well on in years. After a brief hesitation, Peter opened 
the violin case. The violin had a good wood smell, and the hairs 
of the bow smelled of rosin. Everything seemed to be in order: he 
picked up the instrument and hefted it in his hand, as if to gauge its 
weight. He raised it to his shoulder, passed the bow over strings that 
were already worn. The instrument was out of tune. Peter couldn’t 
summon the will to tune it. 

He no longer took pleasure in his playing. The reason for this 
disaffection was not exhaustion, and neither was it a passing ill 
humor. Days before, he had caught a conversation between two 
guides, a Munsee and a Southern Indian. The Munsee said that the 
fire of the Iroquois Confederation had gone out: Oneidas, Mohawks 
and Senecas had spilt the blood of brothers and cousins. Peter had 

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felt himself shiver. His thoughts had turned to his mother, to Uncle 
Joseph, to the days in Canajoharie, now as far away as London, as far 
away as China or the moon. The world he had known was dissolving 
before his eyes, snow in the April sun. Living men and faces had 
become painful memories. 

Peter felt the notes vibrating. The soldiers took a few steps. He 
played like a machine, his fingers finding the chords mechanically. 
But his tempo was slow and melancholy. Impossible to dance to. 
After a good minute, Peter gave a start, and noticed the men’s 

“Forgive me, sir. Doesn’t that seem a little slow for a jig?” 

The young man nodded. “You’re right, Mr. Bunyan. I don’t feel 
very well, I’ve drunk too much. Please excuse me.” 

Peter put the violin back in its case, took his leave and disappeared 
into the tent, followed by a murmur of disappointment. 

The light burned slowly, sending darting shadows. Lying on his 
camp bed, Peter stared toward a point high above his head, beyond 
the tarpaulin that covered his body and his worldly goods. Then he 
looked at the violin case. For a while, to open it had been to reveal the 
contents of a treasure casket, a trove of images and memories. Now 
he performed the gesture reluctantly. At home, a thousand miles 
away, perhaps only the river and the trees were still in their proper 
place. He felt another shiver shaking his limbs: images became 
ghosts, memories faded. Day after day the course of events was 
removing him from himself. He felt like a mushroom that had risen 
from the earth, foam on the stream. Uncertainty weighed down on 
his chest like a boulder. What fate had his people met with? Inner 
voices wove a tangled web of thought, but all that emerged from it 
was doubts, alarmed presentiments and gloomy premonitions. 

It was exhaustion, he decided, that kept him from catching the 
meaning of his agitation. He prayed that sleep would come soon. 

Two hours later he was still awake, his head filled with the same 
shadows that the light drew on the fabric, his legs heavy. He picked 
up the Bible and flicked through it distractedly. He read a passage 
about the birds, which need not think or toil because the Lord 
provides for them, and in fact they don’t: they live and fly and that’s 
it. God provides for all life — the lilies of the field, birds, men. 

But men have to work and fight, while women suffer in childbirth. 
Lilies and birds hadn’t sinned, back in the beginning. 

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His mother had told him that birds weren’t animals like the 
others. They were angels that bore the spirits of men. 

Peter imagined a bird unfolding its wings above him, becoming 
bigger and bigger. The wings covered the sun, stretched from one 
end of the ocean to the other. The bird was a shadow, black as night, 
silent and impenetrable. 

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That night, before going to sleep, Molly prayed. She prayed to the 
winds to blow softly. She prayed to the sun to shine its rays on their 
victory. She prayed to the spirit of Hendrick to bring wisdom to 
her decisions. She prayed to Grandmother Moon and the Master of 
Life not to spill too much blood. To allow them to return home, to 
think of their children’s future. 

Molly prayed to William. To guide her eyes and senses, to control 
her passions, her anger, her pride. 

Molly asked for help, then went to sleep. 

The church is packed. Eyes and heads reach the ceiling, like sacks 
of maize piled up for the winter. Irish landowners, Scottish tenants, 
Mohawk warriors. Bears and wolves crouch on the stone floor. 

Huge turtles hold up the altar on their backs. 

The pastor, standing in the pulpit, leafs through the prayer book. 

Peter gets to his feet. He raises the violin to his shoulder, plays: 
it’s the old Irish march that his father had his pipers play on the 
bagpipes before going into battle. Two sachems in black gloves and 
mourning cloaks approach the coffin to lower it beneath the altar, 
but the hole has not yet been dug. 

The congregation step forward, one at a time, to pick up a spade 
and try to dig. In vain. The earth is harder than iron. The handle 

Joseph tries to use his tomahawk as a pick. Ronaterihonte is beside 
him, his face in shadow. He digs with his nails until his fingers bleed. 

Beyond the wall of backs, I see the coffin, still open, but can’t see 
a body, only a scrap of blue. 

The church vanishes. In its place, a forest of autumn maples. 
Sitting on a rock, Sir William blesses Joseph and Philip’s efforts with 
a smile. He has a tortoise rattle and his face is painted. 

He approaches me, I sit on his knee, stroke his lips. 

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“Who is in the coffin, William?” 

He replies, but in an unknown language. A mountain wind 
carries his words away. A canoe appears on the river. A girl is on 
board. William gets in and holds out a hand to me. 

“Come with me to the Garden, my love, in the middle of the 

Joseph and Philip load on the coffin; the canoe goes back 

I grip the girl’s hand. She wears an adoption bracelet on her wrist. 

Her eyes are the color of the river. 

It is Esther Johnson. 

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29 . 

“War isn’t really war until brother kills brother. It’s a French saying, 
but I can’t pronounce it as well as you do, Mr. Dalton. So I report it 
in our language, or rather in the language of the realm for which we 
must fight, kill and die.” 

Colonel Abercromby paused for effect. 

“But don’t we have brothers on the other side? Distant relatives, 
perhaps. And yet, even if we did have them, right now we would 
already have disowned them.” He passed the spyglass to the aide-de- 
camp and stroked the neck of the thoroughbred on which he was 
mounted. “It seems that for once the Yankees intend to hold their 
position and resist. They are favorably situated, there is no denying 
it: Sullivan knows what he’s up to. A decent artillery, a few French 
uniforms, and they’ve turned into an army.” 

“We’re just out of range, sir,” said the orderly. “The men have 
fallen in.” 

“Very good.” Abercromby gave his mount another caress. “So all 
we have to do is await Howe’s order.” 

The clouds had thickened since the morning, filled with rain, 
but — as if by some sinister miracle — they hadn’t yet burst. 

Peter had slept and eaten badly. That morning, along with the 
bulk of the army, he had forded the Brandywine to the north, 
performing a wide maneuver to circle Washington’s troops and 
launch a flanking attack. Meanwhile the Hessian mercenary units 
were simulating an attack on the ford further south, to distract the 

Though it had survived the long march that brought him there, 
his quick young body had become a weight — like the uniform, like 
the flagpole. His arms ached. The pole felt like lead as the wind 
swelled and stirred the banner of the realm, a sail exposed to the 
violence of the elements. He was the one who must provide a visible 
reference to the first light infantry contingent as they prepared to 

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attack the hill. The flag wasn’t merely a symbol; it was the needle of 
the compass, the vector for the army’s arrangement in the field. 

The colonel’s garrulous voice interrupted Peter’s reflections. 

“Lieutenant Johnson, today is the day for you to earn your second 
medal. Fly the Union Jack over Birmingham City Hall and you will 
win it for sure.” 

“If God wills it, sir. I don’t ask too much from good fortune.” 

The colonel touched his shoulder with the tip of his riding 

“You won the first in the forest, fighting the petite guerre. But 
today, sir, today we are fighting the real war.” He chuckled nervously. 
“With all of its rules.” He studied the sky. “And you may be sure that 
this will not be like White Plains. Today it won’t rain.” 

Abercromby’s loquaciousness betrayed his nerves. No one else 
among the marshaled ranks had any desire to speak. The tension 
snaked silently around. 

A drum roll made the air vibrate. Repeated three times. 

The order to advance. The standards of the regiment began to 

Peter turned to look at Osborn Hill. On top of it, Generals Howe 
and Cornwallis aimed their spyglasses toward the hill opposite 
them. The cannons rang out, and the penetrating shrill of bagpipes 
invaded the battlefield. 

Peter shivered. In the few seconds before he forced his body 
to move, before the horrible mechanics of war took charge of 
him, he saw his mother’s face. She looked furious and terrifying. 
Warriors followed her, tall, fit, painted in bright colors, wearing the 
expression of men who have decided to look death in the face. His 
mother called to him to bring her black stallion; there was no time 
to talk. Peter felt his legs moving. His body seemed to be capable of 
marching all by itself: it had done nothing else for months. The pain 
in his arms was far away, in a corner of his mind, further away than 
his awareness of the blood beating in his ears. 

Cannon fire devastated the land just in front of the first lines. He 
could see the sergeants closing formation, putting the infantrymen 
in the right place, striding along the sidelines, sabers unsheathed, 
faces grim. The wind carried the smell of fear. 

Thunder. Explosions. Cries. “You are His Majesty’s soldiers, for 
God’s sake.” “Sooner or later they will be within range.” 

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Peter thought of the colonel’s words. War is not war until brother 
kills brother. Before his eyes, men, men, and men were going to their 
deaths in orderly rows. They marched until the world exploded, the 
land was disemboweled, limbs and heads flew skyward. Death sent 
up the smell of blood, excrement, wet earth. 

The fiery mouths of the continental forces roared again and 
again, opening up craters among the English forces, voids that had 
to be hastily filled by reinforcements from the rear. The pikemen 
had trouble keeping the formations in order; officers and NCOs 
urged and yelled encouragement, red in the face. Peter watched the 
scene as though in a dream, forgetting his weariness, his pain over 
the fate of his people, over the end of his world. 

The bombs fell. Shattered bodies piled up. Twenty yards to the 
left, a captain with a bloodstained uniform raised his saber and 
harangued his men. 

An explosion obliterated him. Clods of earth and scraps of body 
rained down all the way to where the standard bearer stood. Peter 
stiffened, closed his eyes. He heard the cries of the sergeants. 

“Forward! For the King! Forward!” 

The first rows were already under rifle fire, but their artillerymen 
must have brought their guns closer and adjusted their aim, because 
they were starting to hit the rebel defenses, granting the infantry a 
little cover and room to maneuver. Peter could just see the outlines 
of the Yankees on the line of defense. Others were firing from the 
windows of the village houses. 

The first two lines of redcoats stopped, one standing, the other on 
its knees, and fired back. The third and fourth lines came forward 
and repeated the operation, while the others reloaded. The march 
continued inexorably. 

“Standard-bearer Johnson!” someone shouted his name. 
“Standard-bearer!” The colonel loomed over him on his mount. 

Peter stirred and tried to control his trembling. 

“At your orders, sir.” 

“I want to see our flag upon that hill. Forward! Show what you’re 
made of, by God!” 

Peter pushed himself onward, as bodies fell around him. They 
were now out of range of the cannon, and it was the rifle fire that 
was bringing in the greatest blood tribute. The rebel fusillades were 
dense and accurate. 

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4 °5 

So this is my death, he thought. 

He stepped forward again. 

So this is my death. 

A bullet snapped the flagpole, and the Union Jack landed on the 
ground. Peter felt a sense of grim liberation and slipped down after 

So this is my death. 

Someone landed on top of him. 

“Get up, Johnson! Pick up the banner!” 

It was Sergeant Bunyan, his faze frozen in a grimace. A bullet 
caught him right in the chest, and he fell. He tried to get up again, 
but only managed to hoist himself up on his elbows, gasping for air. 

Peter drew himself up on his knees. He felt the shadow of the 
great wings above him. 

Before the stunned eyes of the sergeant he took oft his shirt and 
jacket. Bunyan gulped. 

“What the hell are you doing?” he struggled to say. “You’ll be 
court-martialed. . .” 

Court-martialed. Peter had never heard more meaningless words. 
This had been the day of his meaningless death. But he had not lived 
his life without a meaning. 

The great bird of prey dived. 

Peter bent down. He picked up blood-drenched soil and with his 
dirty fingers drew dark red marks on his face. 

Bugles sounded the bayonet charge. The ranks broke up: the 
charge by the English soldiers unleashed a murderous cry that 
seemed to shake the barricades and the clutch of houses on the hill. 

Peter got to his feet, his chest bare, the flag in his fist. He pointed 
it in front of him like a pike. The war cry of the Wolf clan echoed 
in the air. 

The young Mohawk warrior flung himself against the line of 
rebels, as fast as the thought that was running through his mind. 

His soul had taken wing. 

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30 . 

The hunt had gone badly, and Philip was worried, though it was 
nothing new; things had been like that for days. 

Hunting with the Senecas had borne no fruit: their pursuit of a 
big deer had gone on for hours and then, when they were sure they 
had surrounded it, the animal disappeared, vanished at the end of its 
trail into an impenetrable patch of brambles. Their uncertain eyes had 
met, and some of them had cursed in low voices, as was the wont of 
the Senecas. All together they had decided that the hunt was over. 

On the way back to the fort, the man bringing up the rear of the 
line said that there were some dead birds along the way that no one 
else had noticed. Philip asked what kind of birds they were, but the 
hunter didn’t reply. The unit marched in silence until the fort came 
into view, 

When they reached the shacks of the refugees they met a Mohawk 
Valley settler and received the terrible news. The man was shaken, 
and he spoke to Philip deferentially, in a small voice. 

Peter Johnson, the son of Sir William and Molly Brant, had died 
in battle. 

The hunters uttered words of respect and grief, and Philip 
dismissed them, saying that he would be back later, and they walked 
away. He was left on his own, near a big maple tree, bewildered now 
that the darkest of his forebodings had come to pass. 

Peter, the future and the hope of the nation, Peter, the violin and 
the sword, Peter, English studies and Mohawk hairstyle, dreams and 
electricity. The Valley shaped by William Johnson had died with 

His feet led him to the fort. He thought he could hear painful 
thoughts filling the air until it was saturated with them. 

It had come down in the evening, when torches cast sinister 
shadows. Philip took a deep breath of the pungent air that scraped 
his nostrils, and set off in no particular direction. 

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The figure of Joseph Brant emerged from of the shadows. The 
man who had appointed himself chief appeared in front of Philip, 
but with his eyes focused on some vague point behind him. His face 
was distorted by the reflections of the flames and by his suffering. 

“I should never have let him go.” His voice was like the screech 
of iron. 

“He had chosen his fate and no one could have stopped him,” 
Philip replied. 

He was aware of his friend’s grief like an animal nestling in his 
mind, ready to pounce. 

“We owe it to him to take what we have done to its conclusion.” 

A shiver kept Philip silent. Joseph stood a like wall of sorrow 
and spite that absorbed the light from the torches until it darkened 
them. A group of ghosts danced in the darkness behind him. 

“I will pursue this war to the bitter end, along with anyone 
willing to follow me. I will do it in the name of Peter and what he 
was fighting for. I will do it for all of us. We must take back what 
belongs to us.” 

“What does that mean?” asked Philip. 

Joseph seemed not to have heard the question. 

“I will let winter pass. I will let them feel safe.” 

“What does that mean, Joseph?” Philip’s tone betrayed his 

“There’s only one way to get our lands back,” the other man 
replied. “Act as the French and the Hurons did during the other 

“Attack the settlements ?” 

“Raid their cattle, destroy their harvests. We must strike them 
in their houses, drive them out one by one, if necessary. Force the 
settlers to leave.” 

“In those houses there are women and children,” Philip objected. 
“Do you think you will be honoring Peter’s memory that way? Is 
this your war ?” 

“It’s what is done.” 

“My wife and my daughter died because of people who thought 
like that.” 

Joseph looked at him angrily. 

Philip came very close, until he stared straight into Joseph’s eyes. 

“Yes. I know where your path ends. In a bog of blood.” 

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“I am a chief, ” Joseph replied. “I have to fight for my people, I 
have to give them some land. If the hardness of oak is not enough, 
we will become rock. But we have to try, we have to make the effort. 
Or else there will be no dawn for the Mohawks.” 

Philip thought again of when they had repelled the attack of the 
pirates on the open sea. That day Joseph had the same look in his 
eyes that he now saw directed at the darkness. 

He spoke as if his blood had turned to ice. 

“Many years ago I inflicted on others what I myself had been 
subjected to.” 

Joseph gave a start, as if he found himself on the edge of an abyss. 

Philip went on. 

“When they massacred my family, my rage was blind, just as 
yours is today. I let myself be guided into revenge. I took an eye for 
an eye, without making distinctions. My tomahawk didn’t stop even 
at the unarmed and the innocent.” His voice was low and forceful, 
the words rolled between their feet. “What I discovered then is that 
there is nothing that I am not capable of. I was horrified by myself, 
by what men can unleash. I won’t follow you, Joseph.” 

The other man didn’t move. He had received the confession with 
the stoicism of a priest. His anger seemed to have cooled down. The 
die was cast. 

“When Molly asked me to come and call you, I thought I 
wouldn’t know what to do with you.” He looked at Philip again. 
“I was wrong. You’re the one who doesn’t know what to do with 
yourself.” His words contained desolation and bitterness. “Good 
luck, Ronaterihonte.” 

The darkness swallowed him up. His outline remained imprinted 
at the point where he had disappeared, hanging in the night air. 

Philip would have liked to reach a destination, if only he had had 
one. He approached one of the bivouacs and sat down in silence, 
thinking that Peter was no longer in the world. 

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31 . 

I went to see her at dawn. The woman that many call a witch. The 
mother of Peter, my cousin, dead in battle. The woman who gave 
Sir William, my grandfather, eight children. She was praying, arms 
outstretched, palms turned upward. She was reciting phrases in her 
language, a mysterious music. I had to talk to her about the dream. 
Fear and anxiety gripped me all night. She has seemed a witch to 
me, too, I’m well aware of it. I remember the shyness, the anxiety. 

They say that she can stop rapids, deviate rivers, reduce her enemies 
to ash. That she can heal the sick, encourage harvests, induce fertility. 
Call the dead back to life, turn herself into an animal. I didn’t know how 
to approach her, and yet I had to. I stayed and looked at her, I watched 
the gestures of prayer at sunrise, until she noticed me, watching her 
from the other side of the window, and beckoned me in. She put water 
on the fire, returned my hug, listened to my words of grief. 

I told her I had dreamed about Peter. She looked me in the eye 
and said, “Tell me.” 

I told her what I remembered: Peter was digging a ditch, but 
the earth was hard and the spade broke. Philip and Joseph Brant 
loaded a coffin onto a boat. Grandfather William was on the boat. 
He helped me in. 

As I told the story, Molly’s expression changed, becoming less 

She asked me if Grandfather had said anything. I replied that I 
couldn’t remember. 

She told me there are ways to help you remember, to make images 
clearer. She asked me for my bracelet, held it up with both hands to 
her lips, which whispered phrases. She exposed it to the smoke that 
rose from the brazier, and blew on it before giving it back to me. 

She said the bracelet was precious, and that it was no coincidence 
that it had come to me. She asked me about Tondon, about Peter, 
about what I had seen. 

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She said she was about to send her children to Montreal. Uncle 
Daniel will supply their needs. They will have a stone house, enough 
food, lessons in English and mathematics. She asked me if I wanted 
to leave with them. She listened to my reply: I wouldn’t leave even in 
chains. She sighed and smiled. “You will live in my house,” she said. 
“It isn’t good for a woman my age to remain alone.” 

The sun wasn’t yet high. The anxiety had gone. 

A strange calm is walking toward me. 

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32 . 

Crouching in the shadows, his bones shrinking in on themselves, no 
taller than a little boy before he becomes a man, digging through his 
hair in search of lice, coughing, spitting. 

You have the decorations of a man of rank. Time has left a 
network of wrinkles on your face. 

Johannes Tekarihoga, the last of the Tekarihogas, spiritual chiefs 
of the Tortoise clan since the time before the time when Woman of 
the Sky fell from above, the noble people who support the world on 
their back. If the world comes off its axis, it isn’t your fault. Exile, in 
fact, seems to have granted you glimmers of an ancient dignity. The 
eldest of them say you resemble the Tekarihoga before you. How 
can they know ? No one is older than you anymore. 

Only he who is like an arrow finds his way, they say. Perhaps there may 
exist such a thing as an arrow that wobbles, slowly, the tip disconnected 
from the wood, and yet capable of passing through the air until it 
reaches its destination. The flank of a deer. A target fixed to the trunk 
of a tree. The ground, after drinking the air while its invisible wings 
supported you. People talk about straight arrows, not young arrows. 

Mysterious things happen in the cotton-wool limbo where your 
best friend, the one who drinks pints and demijohns, has confined 
you. Things happen every day: the spirits have impalpable wings 
that sometimes brush past you. Your alcoholic exile is less coarse, 
less squalid than many people thought it would be. 

So, when the going gets tough, you withdraw from the eyes of 
the women, you leave the field, wander in the forest shouting under 
your breath, cursing to yourself, or laughing and laughing, trying 
out dance moves, lifting your hands to the sky and giving thanks for 
another day of life, one more day in spite of everything, a long life to 
you and your best friend. 

Many people still think you wise, and you are well liked. The 
women smile at you, the little boys greet you deferentially: you have 

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always been generous. All gifts come from your hands; you have 
always kept for yourself only what you needed. If Tekarihoga were 
rich, now, his people would not be hungry. That’s why they love you: 
you are the image of days gone by. 

When Woman of the Earth dreamed for the first time, fertile 
fields were born from that proud body. A cloud from the west took 
different shapes to please her, until it finally became a young man. 
Woman of the Earth fell instantly in love and wanted to have the 
cloud-man inside her. Now Woman of the Earth desires only that 
the insects cease to swarm, to form columns, to fight. The clouds 
from the west have the shape of ships, of cannons, of huge funereal 

The world spins on its axis, and you are like all men: you follow 
your thoughts — if you are cheerful you laugh and laugh, and if you 
are sad you weep and curse your fate. 

The old man was sitting on a rock. He looked at the reddish 
surface of the waters, where the sun seemed to be extinguishing its 
strength to force itself into a night of exile. His face was motionless, 
his eyes looked like pieces of lake sent to give light to a face tested 
by the seasons. Coming back from fishing, Philip had been able to 
study his face for more than an hour, as he rowed toward the shore. 
He hadn’t moved an inch. Philip moored the boat and approached 
him, taking care to remain in view. 

“How are you, old man?” 

Tekarihoga turned his head and looked at him expressionlessly. 
“The lake is barely rippling. It’s very strange for this time of year.” 
Philip nodded. “The weather will change with the new moon.” 
Tekarihoga said nothing. Philip heard the lapping of the water on 
the rocks, slow and lazy. Then the old man went on. “I have never 
been a good fisherman, Ronaterihonte. There are few things that I 
know how to do, to tell the truth.” 

Philip was startled. Persuading Tekarihoga to utter more than a 
few monosyllables was extremely difficult. 

“You are a good chief, even in these difficult days.” 

Tekarihoga raised an eyebrow. “Oh, it isn’t difficult. The days are 
filled with signs; I am sure you have noticed. Giving good advice is 
easy, you just have to take yourself as an example of madness.” 

A night bird called shrilly. Tekarihoga stared again at the surface 
of the water. “You are a good warrior, Ronaterihonte. The young 

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men are afraid of your shadow, and for that reason they don’t know 
what to make of you. You can’t be a father, or a brother: they don’t 
understand your ways.” 

“I know.” 

Tekarihoga nodded. “Once, in Albany, I saw a Dutch butcher. He 
was much better and faster than our best hunter. He did nothing else 
all day. Skinning, cutting, boning. This is not the time of warriors, 
Ronaterihonte. It is no longer the time of the Mohawks.” 

Philip smiled. It was as if the old man’s mind had touched his 
own. The present generation might disapprove of the choices of the 
Great Devil. It didn’t matter: madness pervaded everything. 

He said good-bye to the old man and set off toward the fort. When 
he turned back, the figure stood out against the dusk, motionless. 

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Throughout the winter, wishes and prayers had kept the thirst 
for revenge at fever pitch. Every day the Senecas remembered the 
warriors who had fallen at Oriskany. The tears of the Mohawks were 
still hot for Peter Johnson. 

As soon as the paths were free of snow, Joseph left Fort Niagara 
and reached Oquaga. 

The king’s flag still stood in the middle of the village, wet with rain and 
incapable of flapping. Thanks to the rum requisitioned by the Houghs, 
after two days of partying the number of Volunteers had already doubled. 

At the end of May, two hundred of them attacked a group of 
farms high up the Schoharie River. Some settlers got away in time; 
the others were captured along with their animals. Joseph ordered 
that all the women and children be assembled inside a granary in 
Cobleskill. By the time the warriors left, not another building 
within a three-mile radius had escaped the flames. 

On the way back, Joseph found a message fixed to a post. It 
was signed by Captain McKean, in the name of the inhabitants of 
Cherry Valley. They asked him to stop threatening them and face 
the militia in an even contest. If he wasn’t a coward, the message 
read, they would happily show him how a brant , a wild duck, could 
be turned into a farmyard goose. 

In Oquaga, Daniel Secord was waiting for him with three rebel 
spies captured in the vicinity. The first had been heading back to 
Fort Stanwix to inform Gansevoort that on the day of Pentecost 
Chief Brant had killed and skinned six men near Springfield. 

The second had passed, at Pentecost, by Fake Orsego and seen 
with his own eyes the impaled heads of two known rebels and the 
symbol of Thayendanegea carved at the base of the poles, beneath a 
rain of still- fresh blood. 

The third informer bore a letter for General Schuyler. The 
Schoharie Committee of Safety asked support from the army against 

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4 : 7 

Brant’s Volunteers, who on the day of Pentecost had descended 
upon the village and tortured and killed men and beasts. 

Happy to have received the gift of ubiquity, Joseph immediately 
set oft again toward the west. Butler and Sayengaraghta were 
waiting for him in Tioga to plan a joint attack. In reality, the 
Senecas had chosen the theater of revenge some time before. The 
Wyoming Valley, a land of dreams that the settlers had taken from 
their fathers by means of deceit. Joseph decided not to follow them; 
he didn’t want to be too far away from Oquaga. There were rumors 
that the rebels were preparing to attack the town at any moment. 
John Butler and his Rangers had joined their boats to the warriors’ 
canoes. Joseph traveled up the Susquehanna on his own. 

The news reached him a week later, as he led the Volunteers 

Fort Wyoming had fallen, along with another seven strongholds. 
In less than four days, fire had destroyed a thousand farms, stables 
and granaries. Butler’s men returned to Tioga with four hundred 
head of cattle, two hundred and twenty-seven scalps and five 
prisoners. The ferocity of “Monster Brant,” who was wrongly sup- 
posed to have taken part in the Wyoming Massacre, was already the 
subject of dispatches, curses, and newspaper articles. 

On July 11, 1778, the fourth anniversary of Sir William’s death, 
Joseph bathed in the waters of the Mohawk after three years of 
absence. Then he came down the valley, filled with orenda. 

In Andrewstown he set fire to the houses without checking 
whether they were empty. Eight scorched scalps decorated the belts 
of the Volunteers and the tomahawks of the warriors. In Springfield 
he spared the farms of the loyalists, and the church. He had a few 
spies shot, loaded up what could be transported and burned the rest. 

In German Flatts, the Germans managed to barricade themselves 
inside the fort and Joseph cursed himself for not bringing a mortar. 
With nothing but rifles, attacking the palisade was an impossible 
undertaking. Jonas Klug had to be left unharmed, his only 
punishment the sight of his house devoured by fire. 

Meanwhile France had entered the war alongside the rebels and 
George Washington had put a price on Joseph’s head. A hundred, two 
hundred, perhaps even five hundred pounds. In the new world no 
wealth-creating strategy was as quick and sure as killing Monster Brant. 

He was the most hated Indian since the days of Pontiac. 

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The wood to light the festivities was piled up in the field, amid the 
yellow grass of late summer. 

Over the past year, the fallow land between Fort Niagara and the 
shacks of the refugees had shrunk considerably. For three winter 
moons it had lain under a pack of hard snow. The last white patch 
had melted at Pentecost, just in time for the earth below receive new 
evacuees. Incursions and reprisals were driving refugees out of the 
frontier villages. 

Butler and the Senecas had just returned with a huge booty of 
scalps and animals. Susanna had asked for news of Joseph, so as to 
have one single, banal certainty. Her husband had detached himself 
from them and planned to go on fighting along with the Volunteers. 
Other than that, no reply to her question about him resembled any 
other. That was true of anyone’s questions about Joseph Brant and 
his undertakings. 

Susanna remembered the prisoners of Springfield, when they 
arrived at Easter. They said that Chief Brant had locked them in 
a church, and from there they had witnessed the destruction: 
devastated fields, cattle with their throats cut, the harvest and the 
farms in smoke, the fruit trees sawn oft at the base. Then they had let 
the women and children go and taken the men away. 

Three weeks later, a Dutch doctor escaping from Cobleskill had 
described the inferno: the valley covered with a forest of poles, with 
the symbol of Monster Brant carved into the base and the heads of 
rebels skewered on top. 

Two slave families had turned up at the fort in mid-June. They 
said they had fled while Brants Volunteers were attacking their 
masters farm. Some of them reported excitedly that the Indian had 
fed the old man to the pigs. Others were convinced that the master 
had shot himself so as not to fall into the hands of the savages, and 
that Joseph had entrusted his daughters to a friend who lived nearby. 

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After a thousand stories of that kind, Susanna had stopped 
wondering where the truth lay. 

The hatred that springs from a lie is even heavier than that which 
is born of the truth, and her husband carried a burden of hate that 
was impossible to bear. 

The sunlight still lingered over the summer day. The water of the 
lake became a huge sheet of copper. Meanwhile the countless stars lit 
up and a moment later five fires were also alight, arranged in a long 
line. The procession traced rings and spirals around everyone, and 
soon enveloped them in a single embrace. Men and women danced 
to the beating of drums, struck their chests, stamped the earth. Then 
the crowd assembled and everyone sat in a circle. Molly set a basket 
of tobacco in the fire and began the liturgy of the scalps. 

A warrior rose up and danced, competing with the flames. 
The colored ribbons hanging from his arm whipped the air like a 
stallion’s mane. He pointed a branch adorned with human hair at 
the sky and hundreds of throats paid tribute to him. 

The man got his breath back and began declaiming the story of 
his trophies. Behind a row of heads, a gang of young men went on 
jumping and shouting in chorus. They seemed to be drunk, and 
when an old man turned around to tell them off they ran away 
laughing. As they left, Susanna recognized Isaac’s outline and gate. 
She was tempted to follow, but remained. She couldn’t go running 
after him, not at every opportunity, and certain gestures lose their 
meaning when they lose their consistency. 

Once the tale was told, the warrior removed a scalp from the 
stick. It had belonged to a colonel, a brave man. The warrior declared 
that Molly Brant had appeared to him in a dream, had given him 
instructions about how to take him by surprise, and asked him to 
bring her the scalp, to avenge the death of her son Peter. 

All heads turned toward her, and the water drums fell silent for 
the first time since the beginning of the festivities. The woman’s face 
was a mask of rage; her eyes blazed. 

“Keep your gift for the others. A thousand scalps wouldn’t be 
enough to placate me and ten thousand wouldn’t be enough to 
placate my son’s spirit, which still wanders on the battlefield.” 

The other women nodded and it was the turn of the prisoners. 

A fair-haired little boy was undressed and wrapped in a blue 
woolen cloak, as his old clothes burned in the fire. His new mother 

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stopped crying and shouting and walked toward him, as if he were 
her son who had returned unexpectedly from a very long journey. 
She made him get up oft the ground and led him to his new brothers. 

The other women also asked for children and husbands. None 
chose to give death. Susanna thought this was a rare event, in a cruel 
and desperate time. 

A nation of three hundred refugees couldn’t afford to waste a life. 

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In Albany prison they dined on rancid bread and warm water, a 
soggy soup often enriched with the flesh of worms. 

If you learned to hunt, you enjoyed a more varied diet. Spiders 
and cockroaches, rats, earthworms. Lizards were the most coveted 
prey. With your eyes shut, you could convince yourself you were 
eating eel. 

For eight months, Walter had touched no other food. 

The jailers were bored to death. Among their hobbies, whipping 
the captives was by far the most innocuous. For eight months, Walter 
had undergone humiliations that his tongue refused to relate. Then 
he had faked an illness and managed to escape. 

He gripped the reins and looked back to banish his memories. 

Two hundred Rangers were marching in formation along the 
path. Most of the Senecas had scattered into the forests, to anticipate 
ambushes. Sayengaraghta, wrapped in a black cloak, brought up the 
rear on a thoroughbred. The animal was a present from his father to 
the great war chief. Unfortunately John Butler had not been able to 
join the new expedition because he was suffering from pneumonia, 
so Walter had been put in command and given the task of recruiting 
along the way. 

He lacked his father’s experience, he knew that, but winter was at 
the gates and there was no time to lose. 

His mother and brother were still in jail, and he needed to take 
prisoners to get them out. 

Walter was hungry for revenge and old enough to get it on his own. 

Wintering in Fort Niagara had not been part of Joseph’s plans. He 
would have preferred Oquaga, a more comfortable base, richer and 
less cold. But Oquaga no longer existed, and neither did Unadilla. 
The continentals and the militia had attacked the villages, taking 
advantage of his absence. 

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4 22 


They had reduced the finest farms in the county to blackened 
ruins. Provisions had been burned, maize plants decapitated. The 
orchards were rows of stumps. The animals lay in pools of blood, 
their throats slashed. 

The women and children had fled in advance, but now the 
families had dispersed, and with them the Volunteers. Joseph knew 
that reassembling them in the spring would not be an easy matter. 

On the way west, about eighty men struggled to follow him, 
many with their families in tow. More mouths for the Fort Niagara 
refugee camp to feed. 

In the early afternoon, Daniel Secord returned from 
reconnaissance with news: Young Butler had camped at Tioga, with 
a regiment of Rangers and at least three hundred Seneca warriors. 

“Walter Butler? Wasn’t he a prisoner in Albany?” 

“Not anymore. He escaped and he’s here to meet you. He says the 
hunting season isn’t over yet.” 

They arrived after sunset, a twisting river of torches. The night 
was cold and the wind smelled of snow. Walter Butler welcomed 
them with great enthusiasm and a plate of beans to still their hunger. 

As their mouths were being filled he made his suggestion. They 
would join forces for an incursion to Cherry Valley, the wealthiest 
settlement in the whole valley. A few months before, the rebels had 
built a fort there, but it was said that Colonel Alden knew more 
about women than he did about garrisons. 

“A lot of loyalists live down there,” Joseph observed. “Good 
people like Judge Wells. We’ll have to warn them before we attack.” 

The other man sank his teeth into a calf’s head. “Better not risk it. 
Kill the lot, God will know his own.” 

God doubtless would, thought Joseph, but the Senecas certainly 
wouldn’t. He didn’t like the boy’s impudent tone, or the chosen 
target. Instinct suggested that he should withdraw. Reason told him 
that only by remaining could he avoid a massacre. 

“We’ll come with you,” he said at last. 

“Very good. Tell your men that the pay is generous. They have to 
sign by tonight.” 

Henry Hough lifted his face from his bowl. “Sign what?” 

“The enlistment,” the young man replied, with the insolent air of 
someone explaining something obvious. “John Butler’s Rangers are 
the only formation authorized to fight in this area.” 

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4 2 3 

Joseph understood that the boy hadn’t spoken as a simple ally. 
His father had an official post and received a gratuity for every new 
recruit. For him, Brant’s Volunteers were a missed opportunity for 

The desire to get up and leave was increasingly difficult to control. 

“Don’t be an idiot, Walter. My men are volunteers, they have 
chosen to fight with me and they will go on doing so for as long as 
they want.” 

The young man’s eyes roared but his mouth stayed shut. He threw 
the calf’s skull into the fire and got to his feet. 

“So be it,” he said loudly and clearly. “But they mustn’t wear any 
distinctive marks, not even the yellow drawstring they put in their 
hair. And the white men will have to avoid war paint.” 

A dome of silence descended on their bivouac. From the nearby 
fires, shouts and singing rose up. 

Sayengaraghta had had to wait for the translation of the last line, 
but was the first to speak. 

“Captain Butler is right, brother.” The Seneca chief’s English 
creaked like a dented wheel. “We have seen these white men of yours 
in Oriskany doing battle in paint, and I say that we will all fight 
harder if every man is loyal to his ancestors.” 

“Your grandfather did not know the rifle,” Henry Hough 
exploded. “Mine worked his arse off all year to maintain a bloody 
parish priest. Sod the ancestors.” 

He threw his bowl in the dust, got up, brushed his trousers 
down and disappeared into the darkness. His brother did the same, 
followed by the other Volunteers sitting around the fire. East of 
all went Daniel Secord: he spat a wad of tobacco into the fire and 
followed the group. 

Joseph saw the little procession swelling as it approached the 
other bivouacs. He understood that in Cherry Valley he would be a 
captain without an army. Again he assessed what needed to be done. 
He decided to stay. 

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36 . 

It had snowed during the night, but by dawn the flakes were starting 
to melt into a soft, dense rain, like the haze that hovered over the 

The Volunteers had set oft in a crowd, heading for Fort Niagara. 
Only Kanatawakhon had stayed with Joseph. When they reached 
Butler on the ridge of the mountain, a faint ray of light lit up the 
valley, the skeletons of the cherry trees, the tongue of water that 
licked the shores. The houses looked like elements of the landscape, 
silent as stones. 

Even on a day like that, Cherry Valley couldn’t conceal its beauty. 

It stopped raining and the fog climbed the hills to merge with 
the clouds. 

The men were impatient to attack. Walter Butler held them back, 
wanting to be sure that the powder was dry enough. 

“We have the tomahawks,” said Sayengaraghta, and with a nod of 
agreement Butler let him go. 

Joseph and Kanatawakhon joined the Senecas and followed them 
between the fir trees, as far as a tangle of branches and juniper, but as 
the band struggled to open up a passage, the two Mohawks turned 
back half a mile and went down in a different direction. 

The dogs of Cherry Valley started barking. 

Mr. Mitchell woke up when the stars were still shining outside. 

He broke an egg into a cup of rum, added black coffee, butter and 
maple sugar. As he drank, he glanced at his wife and children, still 
wrapped in sleep. 

Wet snow was coming down, and he had to bring in the last logs 
before they were wrapped in an icy cocoon. 

He went outside, untied the mule’s halter and went up the hill. 

Teaving the forest, Joseph and Kanatawakhon saw the farms. The 
sounds of reawakening reached them from below. Ax-blows in a 

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4 2 5 

woodshed, voices, the cries of the cows ready for milking. Judge 
Wells’s residence was very big, an estate on the other side of the 

They started running, but the sods in the ploughed fields tripped 
them up. The Senecas had passed through the undergrowth and 
swarmed into the open like wolves. A pack of three hundred warriors. 

They ran faster, fell, got up with wounded knees. 

Mrs. Wells had been a guest at Johnson Hall and had given Molly 
a mohair scarf. 

They saw the pack reaching the first farm. A group of them 
stopped; the others went on. Joseph pointed out the next house to 
his companion. Meanwhile the Rangers entered the village at the 

Mr. Wells had bought a horse from old Butler and drunk the 
liquor that his wife made. The judge’s safety must also have been 
close to Walter’s heart. 

Along the road there flowed a stream of animals, men and blood. 
The Seneca warriors scalped the fugitives from behind, still running 
as they did so. Bodies piled up against a horse with its legs in the air. 
From the river came the screams of those who had tried to escape 
through the river and who were now drowning in the icy water. 

Judge Wells leaned against the post, on his knees, hands together 
beneath his mouth. In the middle of his head, the white bone of 
his skull poked out like a rock from a black bog. A man leapt from 
the first-floor window, crashed down into the farmyard and started 
running down the hill. 

“It’s Colonel Alden. Don’t let him get away!” 

The voice exploded from the stairs. Joseph didn’t have time to turn 
around before two Seneca warriors came out of the house, knocking 
over Wells’s corpse as they threw themselves forward in pursuit. 
Young Butler reached the door and fired a few shots, but without 
success. He called to the men upstairs to come down immediately 
and get ready for the attack on the fort. Then he noticed Joseph’s 
expression and pointed to the judge, on his face in the dust. 

“He was hiding a rebel colonel. He got what he deserved.” 

Joseph pushed him aside and went into the house. 

In the antechamber there was the body of a young man. Two 
more in the kitchens. An old man and an old woman embraced 
beside the fire. Scalped. 

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Outside, the wind carried the smell of burned meat and the 
smoke of dozens of fires. Walter Butler was trying to organize the 
siege of the fort. Joseph watched the young captain waving his arms 
around and sweating, and he saw the complete indifference of the 
Senecas. The boy had thought he was using the warriors for his own 
revenge, and now he didn’t know how to stop them. 

Before midday, Mr. Mitchell turned for home. Where the trees 
thinned out, he noticed smoke that couldn’t be coming from the 
hearth. He threw himself down the slope, his feet crumbling stones 
and roots. 

The little stable was being devoured by fire. The house was in 
flames, but the blaze had not yet reached the supporting beams. 

His wife and children were under the blankets, as they had been 
the last time he had looked at them. At the sight of their skulls, the 
impulse to vomit bent him double. Eleanor, his youngest daughter, 
was missing. 

Mitchell ran into the farmyard, filled two buckets from the 
cistern and started throwing water over the flames, inside and out, 
inside and out, as he called to his daughter with all his remaining 

When the slap of the water struck the cupboard, he saw a hand 
emerging from the splinters and scratching the floor. 

Using part of a beam as a lever, he freed the little girl from beneath 
the shattered piece of furniture, hugged her and led her outside to 
get some air into her lungs. With his fingers he washed tears and 
soot from her face, brushed aside locks of hair, stroked her cheek, 
incapable of speech. 

Once again he pressed her to him, as if he had never done it 
before, and at that moment he spotted them, a hundred yards away, 
wearing the green jackets of the loyalist militia. 

Mr. Mitchell thanked heaven that they weren’t savages and said 
to himself that the best thing was to stay there, without attempting 
an impossible escape, to raise his hands and entrust himself to the 
mercy of God. He whispered to his daughter to stay calm. 

Joseph looked for the house of the Mitchells, a modest family he had 
known years before. He peered through a window and saw a strange 
woman sitting on the ground, husking corn. His two children had 

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been the same age as Christina and Isaac: she helped her mother, he 
poked the fire under the pot. 

“What are you doing here ? Why don’t you escape ?” 

“We’re on the side of the king,” the woman replied calmly. 

Joseph opened his eyes wide. “Not even the king could save you 

“I heard them shouting the name of Chief Brant. If the Indians 
are with him, they won’t harm us.” 

“I’m Joseph Brant, but I have no power over these men.” 

He moved away from the window and gazed into the valley. 
Flocks of crows glided over the corpses. He saw Kanatawakhon and 
called to him. 

With a fistful of dark dust moistened with saliva, he drew on 
the family’s cheeks two vertical marks and a diagonal line running 
across them. The mark of the prisoners of Thayendanegea. 

“Perhaps you’ll be safe like this,” he said to the woman, as he 
entrusted her and the children to Kanatawakhon, to escort them 
down to the river. 

He walked away and went on searching, until he recognized a 

The black smoke twisting above the roof told him that he was 
too late. 

He went in. The woman looked as if she were asleep. Her two 
children lay there with her. 

The first of the three aimed his rifle at Mr. Mitchell and told him 
not to move. 

The second raised a hatchet and brought it down on the little 
girl’s head. Not a cry came from her mouth. 

The third said, “Answer, worm. Is it worse to live like this or to 
die like a dog?” 

Mr. Mitchell said nothing. 

The first of the three opened his throat with a hunting knife. 

The Rangers entered the house, to see if the savages had left 

As he left the house, Joseph tripped over a statue of flesh: the corpse 
of a little girl, clutching the corpse of her father, a diamond in its 

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37 . 

The trunk was still full, the contents in order. 

Joseph lowered the lid. He thought of Peggie, his first wife, 
buried with her belongings in land that had ceased to belong to the 

He thought of Peter. He wondered what he would have chosen to 
bury with him if his corpse had not been thrown into an unknown 
grave along with a thousand others. 

His old violin had been left in Canajoharie. The books were at 
Johnson Hall, had perhaps been burnt by now. Ethan Allen’s sword: 
he might have taken that to the grave. He wouldn’t be going back to 
London to return it to the king. 

Joseph thought of himself, of the funeral procession that his 
children would one day prepare for him, of what he would wish to 

A copy of the Gospels that he had translated. The pistols he had 
been given by Lord Warwick. The walking stick with the symbol of 
the Wolf clan. 

He thought of Susanna. She had filled the trunk to move to 
the new house, and hadn’t had time to empty it. Perhaps she had 
understood that she might need it for her final journey. The plague 
of pneumonia had struck the shack-dwellers first, the starving ones, 
the ones without a refuge, who in order to seek shelter from the 
wind slept in craters dug in the snow. Then the sickness had scaled 
the walls of the fort and Susanna had died of the fever three days 
before he came back. The attack on Cherry Valley had kept him 
from embracing her one last time. 

He looked at the roof beams, the walls plastered with clay, the 
still- gleaming wooden floor. 

Before the summer, Molly had persuaded Colonel Bolton to 
build two farmhouses. She lived in one, with Esther Johnson, the 
servants, and the usual army of guests and pilgrims. The other was 

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4 2 9 

for Susanna and the children, to protect them from the rigors of 

Now no one would plant fruit trees when spring arrived. No one 
would pick flax and prepare the land to welcome the Three Sisters. 

Through the windowpanes, the water of the lake looked pale; a 
blanket of ice guarded its shores. Streets and paths were thin crevices 
in the white of the field. Another few weeks and Fort Niagara would 
be a motionless vessel in a sea of ice. 

In the spring, the new house would be left empty, 

Joseph had to go oft to fight again. Isaac and Christina couldn’t 
stay. They would go and live with Margaret, at Take Cayuga. 

When he came back, Susanna wouldn’t be there to put Christina 
in her father’s arms. Her voice wouldn’t be there, to speak of Isaac’s 
latest feats and prevent him from keeping them a secret. 

Joseph got to his feet and picked up the trunk. The front door 
opened silently and there in the doorway stood his son, dirty and 

His eyes were swollen, his face and shoes covered in mud, his 
woolen jacket nothing but a rag. He stood motionless, one shoulder 
leaning against the doorpost. 

Joseph walked around the table, took him by one arm and 
dragged him inside. 

“What on earth has happened to you?” 

The boy’s face lit up with pride. 

“I fought a Seneca, because he offended me.” 

“In that state, you offend yourself. What did he say to you?” 

“He called me a dirty Oneida.” 

Joseph looked his son in the eyes, and tears appeared on his lashes. 
He gripped his shoulder and wanted to talk to him calmly, but the 
smell of alcohol aroused his anger. He let go of him and boxed him 
on the ear. 

“You stay away from rum, do you hear me ? And now go and clean 
yourself up, I don’t want to be late.” 

The tears began to flow. 

Joseph stood silent, motionless, as the boy sobbed. He wanted to 
let him pour everything out. 

Isaac wiped his eyes and when he looked up again, there were 
no tears in them, only hatred. He bared his teeth, like a frightened 
animal, then summoned the courage to roar again: “Susanna died 

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43 ° 


three days ago. If you didn’t want to be late you should have thought 
of that before.” 

He turned and was about to go, but Joseph gripped him by one 
arm, hurled him to the ground and, before he could hide under 
the table, immobilized him with a knee on his chest and started 
furiously beating him. 

Isaac took refuge behind a wall of legs and arms. Joseph suddenly 
leapt to his feet and dealt him a kick. 

Someone knocked at the door and a frightened voice asked if 
he needed any help. Joseph picked up the trunk again and tried to 
think of something to say, but nothing came to mind, so he left. 

Outside, a crowd of weary faces appeared: refugees waiting for 
their daily alms. Many of them had prepared words of condolence 
and recited a repertoire of despairing laments. Since the time of his 
return from London, Joseph had received no wages, but now he 
wasn’t far from being one of the wealthiest men in the nation. A 
solid house, his daily bread, and the favor of the English. 

He crossed the courtyard, repelling the assault with hasty 
gestures. An old man irritably reminded him that a great man gives 
away everything, down to the last crumb. Joseph replied that that 
might be why there were so few great men around these days. 

He thought that he no longer cared about being a great man, a 
rich Indian, or an invincible warrior. All that mattered now was to 
make the right choice, for Isaac and for Christina. So that one day 
they wouldn’t have to carry a trunk full of rancor to his grave. 

“Once, you were a woman in the flower of youth. Now those petals 
are dry and their perfume blows in the wind. Now we must let you 
go, because we may no longer walk together on the same earth. That 
is why we leave your body here, so that you may walk calmly toward 
the Master of Life. Do not let earthly things distract you. Taking 
care of the family was your sacred task and you have been true to it. 
Parties and dances brought you pleasure, but do not let those things 
confuse your mind: walk straight along your path.” 

Tekarihoga’s black cloak enveloped him like a huge seashell. 
The old sachem was a white and grey mollusk poking out from its 
open valves. Beside him was Philip, dressed in leather, with a black 
velvet band around his right arm. The crowd stood in a wide circle, 
three rows thick. The whole of Canajoharie was there: Susanna’s 

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43 1 

Oneida relations, Henry Hough and many families from Oquaga, 
the Butlers and some Englishmen. The Negroes who had dug the 
hole observed the scene from a little way off. The orator resumed 
his speech. 

“Even you, relatives and friends of this woman, can but persevere 
on your way. For that reason, with a string of shells we wish to clear 
the sky of black clouds, so that the sun may guide you still. With 
another string we will clean the earth, so that you may go on your 
way without uncertainties. With the third, we clean the heart and 
guts within you, lest you be distracted by grief.” 

Philip handed the wampum necklaces to the noblest man in 
the nation. Joseph understood that these were not merely formal 

Although he didn’t need to speak, Ronaterihonte was saying 
something. Grief had brought them back together. 

Joseph raised his head and looked at him. 

Philip, too, was wearing three necklaces. They hung on his chest 
just below his cross. 

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38 . 

Grandpa William softly sings a song between his teeth. Sitting on 
his knees, Esther doesn’t understand all the words. They are old 
words, a nursery rhyme or a magic spell. 

They are outside, in the big open space in front of Johnson Hall, 
breathing in the peaceful air. It’s a bright day, perhaps in summer. 
Grandpa William points to the blue sky above them. 

“Sky is called speir” he says to the little girl. 

Then he touches the arm of the chair. 

“Wood is called adhmad .” 

He waits for her to repeat the words, and smiles. The little girl 
strokes his lips with her little fingers. 

The list continues, but Esther has already returned to the present. 
She is fifteen, and in Molly Brant’s house, where this memory has 
suddenly returned. Or perhaps it hasn’t, perhaps by following 
Molly’s footsteps she was able bring it to light, after it had been 
buried for a long time. 

Molly has talked to her about the dream many times. The message 
from Grandpa William to the living. The phrase in the language of 
your land, words carried away on the wind. 

Who is in the coffin? 

Now the words echo clearly. 

Esther runs out of the house. The camp is drenched in the light of 
early afternoon, it is hot, the hum of insects is lulling young and old 
to sleep. The women wash clothes or roast maize. 

Molly is speaking with two matrons, in the middle of a group of 

Philip set down his ax and looked at the pile of chopped wood. 
However much they crammed into the storehouses, he had a sense 
that it would never be enough. He wiped away the sweat that 
covered his chest and face, and only then did he notice the girl. 

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“I’ve brought you something to eat.” 

Esther put the bundle down on the log and opened it, revealing a 
few ears of corn and a sweet potato. 

“Thank you.” 

He put on his shirt and sat down on a tree trunk to gnaw at the 

They enjoyed the tranquility without having to say a word. There 
was no haze. Below the battlements of the fort, where the Niagara 
threw itself into the great inland sea, the water reflected a clear sky. 

“I’ve heard that the war won’t last more than another year. Do 
you believe that ?” 

Philip shrugged. 

“It doesn’t make much difference to those people. They can’t see 
beyond the winter.” 

Esther’s eyes grew sad. 

Philip looked at her. They finished eating in silence. 

“What will you do afterward?” the girl asked again. 

“Will there be an afterward?” said Philip, as if he expected no 

“Certainly. The winter will pass, spring will return. Everything 
begins again.” 

Esther rows with her eyes closed. Around her wrist she wears an 
adoption bracelet. The coffin is on the canoe. Together we go upstream. 

The white girl points the way. Isn’t that true, William? Your 
granddaughter came to me telling me to remember. She deciphered 
your words, the ones I couldn’t hear. 

“ ‘The coffin holds the sky of the Mohawk Valley and the box is 
made of the wood of the Tonghouse.’ ” 

So is this what awaits us ? 

Come and find me, William, to banish the anger and fear I have 
in my heart. The ordeal we must go through is still great. Smile at 
me in dreams, because we were happy. When we meet again we will 
remember everything. Our days, our breath, our embraces. Peter will 
be there, too. He will find away to reach you, before I come to you. 

This is the time, William. Now that our world is consumed in 
fire. Now that the cycle is being completed. The oak becomes ash, 
the ash feeds new roots. 

There is one thing I still have to do. I must board the canoe, and 
seek the Garden. 

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Orders of George Washington 
to General John Sullivan 
at Head-Quarters May 31, 1779 

The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed 
against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their 
associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total 
destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as 
many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to 
ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. 

I would recommend that some post in the center of the Indian 
Country should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient 
quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay 
waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the 
most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, 
but destroyed. 

But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace 
before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future 
security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with 
which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them. 

Birds, birds of prey. Even the Indians’ features and way of carrying 
themselves made them look like birds, somewhere between cocks 
and crows, turkeys and eagles. And their way of speaking was like 
a gurgle, a sneeze, more incomprehensible than Spanish or even 
Chinese. Now their nests were burning one after the other: coming 
up the Susquehanna along Iroquois territory, not one hovel, they had 
not left a single savage stronghold standing. Goigouen, Chonodote, 
Kanadasega. . . what was the point in giving a name to desolation, 
to a ruin, to the desert? Virgin Territory, that was what they would 
have to call it in the future. Redeemed Territory, granted to those 
who would exploit it. 

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John Sullivan had obeyed his orders to the letter. It was a new 
style of warfare, dictated by contingencies, made possible by the 
slackening of the British grip on the colony of New York. Scorching 
the earth, destroying the seed of disorderly nations. The task was a 
decisive one, even though the power of the Iroquois was a distant 
memory: Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas atoned with 
lakes of tears and rivers of blood for the shortsighted arrogance of 
their ringleaders. 

Once upon a time, the men of letters in the coastal cities had 
called these savages noble primitives, and the Athenians of America. 
Geographical distance falsifies perspective: seen from close up, the 
savages were sly, dirty, untrustworthy. Ready to prostrate themselves 
at your feet so that houses, fields, and possessions would be spared, 
ready to shoot you in the back at the first opportunity. Those 
examples of primordial nobility were vindictive animals: better to 
go all the way, wipe them out once and for all, to protect the future 
and one’s own descendants. What was happening was like the Bible 
stories: whole peoples swept away, generations erased from the 
face of the earth, cities of which not so much as a stone remained. 
All with the blessing of the God of Armies, protector of George 
Washington, Destroyer of Cities. 

Sullivan looked through the spyglass at the village burning half a mile 
downstream and felt brushed by the terrible wing of history. Groups of 
infantry and convoys of artillery were climbing the slope. Drums rolled, 
fifes trilled. Columns of smoke rose on the horizon. The air echoed 
with the final shots. Distant cries. You had to be accurate; that was what 
worried Sullivan. The nests burned, but the savages still wanted to fight: 
they retreated into the forests, lived off roots and bark; gaunt, dry as 
skeletons, they kept the last breath that they had in their bodies to stick 
a knife between your ribs. Just let them get away. They wouldn’t find so 
much as a grain of millet to calm their hunger. 

Some villages were made of houses like the dwellings of civilized 
people; others were nothing but collections of shacks. They all had 
palisades around them, and some looked like real little fortresses, 
with Union Jacks flapping around — the last, pointless provocation. 
But it wasn’t a matter of besieging them: you took up position, set 
up cannon and mortars, waited for the order, and started to rain just 
punishment down upon the enemy. 

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Artilleryman Andre Brillemann took a sip and passed the bottle 

The track that ran from the village was a long line of hollow faces, 
drained and aching bodies. The prisoners — old men, women and 
children — proceeded in silence. The women covered their faces 
with the hems of the blankets that they wore as surcoats; their 
infants rode on their backs or were strapped to their chests. The old 
men kept their eyes on the ground, on the dust and the hardened 

The artilleryman hated that part of his duty. Witnessing the 
processions of the defeated, even of those defeated, did not thrill 
him. Grief is a kind of aura, a mark of evil, and staying too closely 
in contact with suffering makes the body’s humors rot, it makes you 
age prematurely. The weeks of the campaign seemed like months, 
years. When it came to setting up a gun, calculating its elevation, 
loading it, and lighting the fuse, Andre was fine; those acts were 
orderly, meticulous, a kind of art. The gun crew was a well-rehearsed 
orchestra. It was clean work. 

He thanked fate for making him an artilleryman. Raiding villages 
and tormenting harmless people didn’t suit him. But here, he was 
among infantrymen. They pushed the slower walkers with their rifle 
butts, yelled and cursed and sniggered. 

An old Indian woman tripped and fell to the ground. Without 
thinking, Brillemann helped her to her feet. 

“Why don’t you give her your jacket as well, Good Samaritan?” 

The artilleryman stirred. The voice belonged to an ex-Mohawk 
Valley militiaman who was scouring the countryside in the wake of 
the rebel army, along with a gang of ugly thugs: a Delaware Indian, 
an ex-merchant from Albany, two fur-hunters. The man’s face was 
mocking and hostile. His name sprang into Brillemann’s mind. 

“What do you mean by that, Mr. Klug ?” 

Behind Klug another of the thugs pushed his way through. 

“I can’t stand emotion being wasted on people like that,” he said, 
indicating the line of people behind him with a quick wave of his 
hand. “No one can call themselves an American patriot and feel 
pity for those animals.” The guide’s face radiated hatred. Behind 
him was the group of irregulars, angular faces, eyes narrowed to 

“Teave this soldier alone.” 

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44 ° 


Sergeant Harinck’s low, resolute voice would have dissuaded 
anyone. But before he could interpose himself between Brillemann 
and his persecutors, Klug hurled himself at the artilleryman, who 
fell to the ground, on his back. Klug held him tightly, pressing his 
left hand against his throat, battering him with his right. 

The artilleryman resisted with the strength of desperation. Their 
bodies started rolling in the dust, followed by cries, kicks, curses, as 
around them artillerymen and irregulars came to blows. 

General Sullivan had been tempted to inflict exemplary punishment. 
But he, at least, would adhere to the code of war. The men who had 
passed before him had swollen faces, torn uniforms. No one would 
confess the cause of the brawl. The irregulars who seemed to have 
provoked it had disappeared. He would have to punish the victims: 
the code of war was clear on the matter. 

Sullivan thought of the blood that would flow under the lash. 
Never mind, the earth was drenched with it anyway. He signed the 
order. The men came out of the tent, cuffs on their wrists, driven on 
by rifle-butts. 

It was the last duty of the day. He called his batsman and told him 
to let no one in. He poured a glass of sherry. 

In the lamplight, on the table that served as his desk, Sullivan 
opened the book that had gone with him through the whole of 
his career. De bello gallico. It was appropriate for the context, and 
rereading it had brought him moments of great enthusiasm, had 
made him think, had given him countless models and examples. 
They were approaching Fort Niagara, the Alesia of the loyalists. 
The glory of the world is transitory. Once the fall of the Six Nations 
would have been unthinkable. Now the death throes of that ancient 
power were interwoven with the rise of a new nation. 

At the start of the war, terror had run through the coastal cities. 
It was believed that hordes of Indians might emerge from the 
forests and set everything on fire. Burgoyne, who had surrendered 
at Saratoga, had ridden out those fantasies and published a sonnet 
in which he spoke of the Indians as “ten thousand dogs of Hell,” 
ready to avenge the honor of England. Stupid. A tyrant protected 
by a band of savages, that was the face he had given to his own king. 

There was no room for the past in America. 

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40 . 

A beating of wings and wind in the feathers. The view precedes the 
descent toward the column of smoke that will soon obscure the sun. 
The bird flies over the blazing glade. Among the fields, skeletons 
emerge that once were shacks, houses, storehouses. A town. 

Wing-beat. Another turn above the ruins. Corpses swollen with 
the heat of the fire or twisted like pieces of dry wood. On a pile of 
bodies, the only survivor, a dog, barks madly at the snake climbing 
back up the hill. The woodpecker flies in that direction to get a 
better view. The vast creature moves over the northwestern slope, 
in search of fresh prey. A poisonous centipede, its tail pointed and 
gleaming, its back bristling with prickles. The woodpecker makes 
out men, animals, wheels, metal. It settles on a branch to watch 
them passing below. The smell they give oft is frightening, and their 
eyes, as numerous as the stars, still reflect the glare of the fire, are 
reddened by its fog. At the head there’s a man on a horse as black as 
night. He wears a blue uniform and his name is Destruction. In his 
saddlebag he keeps a book. With his gaze he guards the future. At 
his side he carries a golden sword for the head of his enemy. 

Wing-beat. The woodpecker flies away in alarm, heading west. It 
passes the army, flies over the forest and the hill. The air is cool and 
clean again. It looks down, scouring the dense growth of trees along 
the torrent. A rank of men is climbing the ridge, moving rapidly to 
reach the best position. 

The woodpecker flies down. At the head of the group an Indian 
runs, blood-red uniform open to show the marks of war. Crossed on 
his chest are two big pistols, Hatred and Revenge. He is a warrior 
and a chief. A thousand of them follow him, a pack of wolves, fangs 
bared to gnash with rage in the face of destiny. They dart among the 
trees like arrows, they vanish and reappear, forest ghosts clutching 
at a glimmer of good fortune. They are Indians. They are white men. 
They have been fighting together for too long to tell the difference. 

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44 2 


Another beat of the wings. The woodpecker dips to the side, 
performs a wide turn and comes back above them, just in time to see 
them arranged on the rocks, rifles aimed and hearts in their mouths, 
waiting for the advancing horizon. 

Wing-beat. The flight gains altitude, climbs over what remains 
of Seneca territory. The monster tears up one piece at a time. The 
fire burns the foundation of the Tonghouse and climbs along the 

The bird heads further to the northwest, very quickly, until it 
glimpses the shore of the great lake and the squat battlements of 
the fort overlooking the water. It passes over the camp of tents and 
shacks that clings to Fort Niagara in a desperate embrace. It sees 
the English sentries throwing the remains of their rations over the 
palisade for the crowd waiting below. Children with swollen bellies 
slip through the legs of the adults, hunting for the best morsels. 

The bird’s descent reveals a little ship that has recently docked. 
An effort to slow down and settle on the wall. 

The woodpecker looks at the woman wrapped in a rough woolen 
shawl, standing firmly on the fo’c’sle. The sun lights up her resolute 
features. The sailors don’t approach or speak to her. She turns and 
stretches out her hand to stroke the plumage of the creature, which 
takes flight again a moment later. 

Molly’s visions abandoned her. Again she saw the flat expanse that 
separated her from the time to come, and her thoughts were honed 
by the cold air of morning. 

Come with me to the Garden, my love, in the middle of the Waters. 

You are near, I feel it, on this lake that reflects our sky, the sky of 
the valley that we will never see again. I bring it with me, tied to the 
thread of hope that sustains the fate of our people. So little remains. 
Our life is running out, and another must begin, if that is what our 
Heavenly Father has in store for us. 

He makes the wind blow and fill the sails. I need the speed of 
flight. To Montreal and Quebec. They will have to help us or receive 
my curse. 

Peter died fighting the enemies of their king. My family left 
behind lands, estates, farms. My people abandoned the belly of the 
nation. They will have to grant us our due, or lose the last crumb of 
honor before the generations to come. 

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We are due a house, to welcome the children that still remain. 
We are due a land, to plant the seeds that we have saved from 
destruction. To make the grass grow above us, when the time comes. 

We are due a new sky, free of cannon smoke, a sky we can ask for 
a sign of the future with the serenity of the past. 

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41 . 

They reached the fort at midday. Marching at their head was Joseph 
Brant, followed by a meager unit of Volunteers and Rangers. 
Kanatawakhon, Oronhyateka and Kanenonte brought up the rear, 
like dogs guarding a herd. 

The Hough brothers and Daniel Secord had remained behind 
with the bulk of the troop, along with John Butler’s Rangers. Many 
others had gone back to their farms and families, too weary to keep 
fighting. Some would turn up again in the spring, ready to start over. 
There were few Seneca warriors still willing to fight; most of them, 
exhausted, wanted to negotiate a separate peace with the rebels. 

Colonel Bolton had lined up the garrison for the present arms. 

As he crossed the camp and threw open the gate to the fort, 
Joseph saw nothing but wretchedness. Fear had abandoned these 
places, leaving only resignation. Refugees and prisoners mingled 
in the large expanse of tents and shacks, crushed by the same fate. 
Season after season the waves of human beings had superimposed 
themselves upon one another, stratified within the battlements, 
growths of moss on a tree trunk. 

Another autumn was quickly approaching. The leaves slipped 
onto the lake, to form moving islands of yellow and orange. Joseph 
thought it might be the last one for all of them. 

Bolton invited him into the officers’ quarters. Joseph followed 
him, too tired even to reply. 

“Captain Brant,” Bolton began when they were sitting down. “I 
don’t imagine you bring good news.” 

Joseph raised his chin to elude the sleep that had been pursuing 
him for days. The march on Fort Niagara had been uninterrupted. 
He said, “Sullivan is heading for Geneseo. In Newtown we set an 
ambush for him, but he smelled a rat and started firing at us with 
cannon. We could only look on as he destroyed the Seneca villages 
one after another and burned the fields. He has four thousand men 

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with him, and heavy artillery. We are organizing the last defense. 
I’ve come to recruit all able-bodied men.” 

“I won’t beat around the bush, Captain Brant. The situation 
is desperate here. Half of these people won’t survive the winter. 
Needless to say, when the continentals arrive I will be able to 
evacuate only my soldiers.” 

“Where’s my sister?” 

Bolton sighed. “She has left for Canada. She wants to meet the 
governor. They need ships and somewhere to take your people.” 

Joseph thought of the mass of desperate people out there. He 
thought of Molly on the far side of the great lake. He thought of 
his son, who had sought refuge with Margaret in Cayuga. There was 
still something he could do. 

They hung on his lips as he showed them how to take aim. The 
target was a log forty yards away. One at a time the boys tried to fire, 
and received advice from Philip. 

“You must never stay where you are after firing, but always run 
after your prey.” 

One of the older boys objected that if he missed, his prey would 
escape and he would certainly never catch up with it. 

Philip nodded. He said, “But what if it was injured? It will carry 
on until it runs out of strength. Then you will be there beside it, to 
take its life. You will thank its soul for granting you its flesh and 
skin. You will thank God and your strong legs.” Then he noticed a 
silhouette at the edge of the shore and stopped speaking. 

“When will you take us deer hunting ?” 

Philip ignored the question. A familiar figure stepped forward. 
Behind it he recognized Kanatawakhon, motionless as a statue, his 
rifle held in the hollow of his elbow. The young men watched the 
new arrival with big, attentive eyes. 

Joseph spoke. 

“You won’t be hunting deer this year. A more important task 
awaits you.” His voice was firm. “An army is threatening the fort and 
your families. You will have to fight for them.” 

Silence fell. 

“Who will lead us into battle?” someone asked. Everyone turned 
toward Philip, waiting for an answer, but the hunter remained 

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44 6 


“I, Joseph Brant.” 

The name made an impact: they knew it well. They craned their 
necks, murmured to one another. 

“We set oft tomorrow at dawn. Get hold of a rifle. But any 
other weapon will do.” With a nod he dismissed the boys, who ran 
excitedly away. 

Philip got up and walked to the water, letting the waves lap his 
moccasins. Joseph joined him. Their footprints mingled in the sand 
until they stood side by side, looking out at the great liquid surface. 

Philip noticed that Joseph had aged. His face was lined, his body 
a heavy hulk. 

“Have you come to recruit the little boys ?” 

“And the old men,” Joseph replied. “We’re marching against 
Sullivan. I came to say good-bye. We might not see each other again.” 

The sun was beginning to extend its trail of light across the water. 
Philip said to himself that in view of such peace it was strange to 
think that the world was coming to an end. Tong blond hair flashed 
through his mind. Something remote touched that final foothold 
in that slow wait for the end. Molly had gone beyond the stretch of 
water, in search of a future. There was no telling whether she would 
come back in time. 

“You remember many years ago, when we escaped the ford in the 
river?” asked Joseph. “One of the two of us could have died then. 
And yet we were the ones, and not the more expert warriors, who 
killed the enemy and came out alive.” 

Philip watched the waves smoothing the sand and erasing their 

“After all, we have been walking the same path since the start, 
Joseph Brant.” 

“There’s still a way to go,” added Joseph. 

Philip gazed at the lake again. 

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42 . 

The unit was ready at dawn. They filled their knapsacks with 
provisions and ammunition. Boys with rifles longer than they were 
embraced their mothers. Men bent beneath the weight of time 
displayed old tomahawks and said good-bye to their ancient wives. 

Tekarihoga witnessed the scene from a distance, murmuring a 
litany. Wrapped in a colored blanket and with a crest of feathers on 
his head, he looked like an emaciated rooster. In the Niagara winters 
he had lost weight and a fair number of teeth. 

A young child hid beside the box he was sitting on and peered out at 
the preparations from behind the flaps of the blanket. The old man peered 
at him from the corner of his eye. He looked intense and adult. Poverty 
and hunger make you grow up in a hurry. War makes you decrepit. 

“Don’t let them see you, or they’ll give you a rifle too,” he said. 

The child retreated nervously. 

“Master of Life, listen to me,” murmured Tekarihoga, as Joseph 
emerged powerfully from his quarters. “Guide Thayendanegea’s arm 
and keep his heart firm always.” 

Joseph Brant wore a scarlet jacket over deerskin trousers. He had 
shaved his head, and the tuft stood out on the top of his skull. 

“See that he leads these men into battle like a great chief,” 
Tekarihoga went on. “And if his day should have come, grant him 
an honorable death.” 

Joseph reached the middle of the clearing, where Kanatawakhon 
was waiting to hand him his weapons. He crossed the handles of the 
pistols over his chest and gripped the rifle. At that moment he saw 
the old sachem approaching. 

“Bless me, noble Tekarihoga.” 

The old warrior touched his forehead with his hand. 

“The right way can be found within all men. May your star shine 
over your path.” He raised his hand and kept it open. “I salute you, 
noble Thayendanegea.” 

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44 8 


Joseph thanked the old sachem with a nod of his head. 

He turned toward the throng, toward their tired and frightened 

It was not the night’s dreams that had put her on the alert. She had 
woken before dawn, in Molly’s house, and understood why, the 
previous evening, she had found a garland of wheat outside the 
door. She had been stupid. She had been as excited as a little girl. 
That nuptial symbol was not a gift, but a message. Joy had clouded 
her mind. Now all was clear, though she would have given anything 
to be mistaken. 

She froze in the cabin doorway. 

Philip was putting his bag over his shoulder. His rifle was beside 
him, his knives were in his belt. 

Esther was seized with rage. 

“Why?” she asked. 

Philip came over to her and touched her hand. 

“They’re younger than Peter. I’m not leaving them on their own.” 

Esther shook her head, unable to speak, and felt the tears finding 
their way again, after staying buried in the depths of her soul for a 
long time. 

He shook her hand. She hugged him, her mouth very close to his 

“Take me away from this destruction.” 

Philip stroked her hair and her face. 

“Prepare a boat. I’ll be back.” 

Esther clung to him, breathing his breath. 

“We must live, Philip. We must live for those who cannot.” Her 
voice cracked. 

He dried her tears with a caress. 

Esther felt short of breath. She realized she couldn’t think about 
the next moment, the coming hour, the next day. She was frozen on 
the brink of an abyss, and begged heaven that she might really fall, 
that they might be turned into statues, that nothing could dissolve 
that embrace. 

Philip hugged her harder. 

“I’ll come and get you and we’ll go away from here.” 

“Swear you will,” she said. 

“I swear it, Esther Johnson.” 

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He pulled away from her and stroked her face once more. 

“Say it again,” she hissed, holding back her sobs. 

“I swear it.” 

She felt him picking up his rifle. 

She didn’t look up to watch him walk away. 

Tekarihoga saw him reaching the group. The young men smiled. 
Some raised their rifles in the air and uttered cries of enthusiasm. 
Joseph gave the order and they began to run. 

They passed swiftly and lightly in front of the sachems. 

“Look, little one,” said the old man, turning to the child crouching 
at his feet. “Look very carefully. One day, when I am long dead, 
you will be able to say you saw Thayendanegea and Ronaterihonte 
running together.” 

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43 . 

When he felt a splinter stuck under his eye, Henry Hough decided 
he wouldn’t be caught like a rat in a trap. Time was on the enemy’s 
side. Trusting to speed had been the only mistake in a simple plan. 

Sullivan’s vanguard had lost contact with most of the army. The 
cannon hadn’t been able to cross a ford, and the soldiers had had 
to stop and build a bridge. Meanwhile the men ahead of them 
had gained at least a day’s march. The idea had been to attack this 
advance guard on the track, take them prisoner and then rejoin 
the others for the great ambush. If Joseph Brant came quickly with 
reinforcements from Niagara, so much the better. Otherwise they 
would do it on their own. 

John Butler had given the plan his approval. The encirclement 
had gone smoothly, but those twenty bastards had taken refuge in 
a clump of rocks, and they seemed to be the most accurate shots 
in the whole of America. There was no way of flushing them out, 
and the others might catch up to them before they used up all their 
ammunition. Four thousand men and a battery of cannon. Some rat 
in a trap. 

Hough joined the Butlers, who were spying on the enemy from 
behind a tree. 

“They can keep us here as long as they like!” he roared. “We’ve 
got to flush them out of there.” 

Walter Butler glared at him, as his father’s jaw flexed nervously. 

“To hell with us!” he shouted in Hough’s face. “If they get away 
from us, they’ll warn Sullivan and the ambush will fail.” 

Hough looked beyond the smoke from the guns. He could make 
out the red hair of one of the snipers. He assessed the distance as 
about seventy yards. They had to close in on them: there was no 
alternative. Force them to give up those damned rocks, push them 
even farther toward Secord’s unit, like birds in a net. Their own 
numerical superiority was crushing, and if they stayed together they 

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45 1 

would sacrifice no more than twenty men. He hoped he wouldn’t be 
one of that number. 

As he started running, weapons in his fists, he saw that the others 
were quickly gaining on him. He fired straight ahead, without even 

A few steps and the impact nearly threw him to the ground. 

The bastards had launched themselves not back toward net, but 
forward, toward the beaters. Birds never did that. 

He saw his brother spitting blood, impaled on a bayonet. 

He unsheathed his hunting knife and flung himself onward, 
striking his adversary in the leg, the arm, the neck, until he slumped 
to the ground. 

He clung to his brother, who was panting on the ground. He 
wrapped his arm around his shoulder to support him. 

Blood stained his hands, his jacket, his face. 

“Holy Christ, Johnny.” 

“Henry. I’m dying, Henry. . .” 

“Johnny.” He tried to lift his brother’s head, which had fallen 
back. “Johnny.” 

His brother’s body slumped lifeless in his arms. 

Secord’s unit was the first to return to camp. They brought 
battered-looking men, with ropes around their necks. 

“We took these four; left eleven more lying on the ground,” said 
Secord. “If we counted properly at the beginning, five got away.” 

The last words cut through the warriors like a knife. The survivors 
would alarm Sullivan. The ambush would fail, and the capital of 
the Senecas was less than ten miles away. If they couldn’t count on 
surprise, there was no way of avoiding its destruction. The rebel 
army would perform its task, with the attention to detail for which 
it was already legendary. The western door of the Tonghouse would 
collapse, and from that doorway Sullivan’s cannon would aim at 
Fort Niagara. 

John Butler was grimly silent. He glanced at the prisoners. He 
ordered the two white men to be brought to his tent and left the 
Oneidas to the warriors, so they could vent their rage. 

Henry Hough appeared in front of him. 

“Why do they get to have all the fun?” 

Butler stared into his eyes and what he saw there made him 

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45 2 


“It’s what prisoners do,” he said. “Indians against Indians.” 

Secord appeared behind his mate’s back, standing near the 
entrance of the tent to which the rebels had been brought. Walter 
Butler came and stood alongside his father, ready to pounce. 

“Whites against whites,” said Hough. 

Butler understood. He glanced around: no one was paying any 
attention to what was going on. The warriors danced in a circle. They 
had pulled out the intestines from the belly of one of the Oneidas, 
and were using them to tie him to the trunk of an oak tree. 

Sweat poured into his eyes. Hough was drenched as well, and he 
lifted the brim of his hat slightly and ran a hand over his cropped 
hair before turning to stare at him again. Butler felt his son slumping 
forward, and stopped him with his hand. 

“To hell with it,” he hissed, before walking away, dragging Walter 
with him. 

In the doorway they waited for their eyes to get used to the darkness. 
They recognized the prisoners, sitting down, hands bound behind 
their backs. Secord went and stood in a corner, found the tortoise 
rattles and started shaking them. Hough went and sat next to the 
fair-haired man and looked at him for a long time. 

“I’m Tieutenant Boyd, of the continental American army. I 
declare myself a prisoner of Captain Brant.” 

Hough nodded seriously. 

“Tieutenant. Would you like to become captain? Or even 
colonel?” He took out his dagger and began to clean his nails. 

The prisoner looked at him in disbelief. 

“I wouldn’t,” said Hough. “I’m a volunteer, I have no 
responsibilities. I’m leaving this war when I think the time is right, 
and no one can tell me otherwise.” 

He turned to the other bound man, who eyed the blade nervously. 
Henry Hough leapt forward and cleanly cut through one of his 

Blood splashed on the tent wall. The cries roused no one. 

Boyd shrank, his face pale and terrified. 

Secord shook the rattles again, with false cheerfulness. 

“I’m here for only two reasons,” Hough went on. “The first was 
to defend my house, down in Oquaga, but one of your men burned 
it down.” 

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He walked back to the lieutenant, grabbed the hair at the back 
of his neck and slipped a handful of earth into his mouth. Then, 
with his thumb, he began to press out one of his eyes, with the same 
mechanical determination he would have used to remove a stone 
from a peach. 

“The second is that I’ve developed a liking for it,” he said as his 
fingernail plunged into the eye-socket. 

The lieutenant groaned, gulped down the earth, tried to speak, 
but a second clod shut him up. 

The other man stirred himself. Blood ran down his neck and 
chest. He said they had information to barter in exchange for their 
lives. A punch in the mouth put him right, and the invitation to 
express himself openly if his split lip permitted. 

“Tet me have a word with Captain Brant,” the lieutenant panted 
before the other man spoke. 

Hough looked at them, and without a word he left the tent. 

He came back shortly afterward. Secord had stopped shaking the 
rattles, the prisoners were naked, and one of them was sobbing. 

The lieutenant was speaking agitatedly to the Indian who 
crouched before him. 

“Tell Captain Brant, in exchange for his clemency we can let him 
know General Sullivan’s plans.” 

“What is he saying?” asked the Seneca, addressing Secord in his 
own language. 

“It doesn’t matter. Go on.” 

The Indian got the embers ready. Hough took a bag of pigs’ ears 
out of his knapsack and started chewing them along with his friend, 
enjoying the scene. Secord picked up the rattles and started shaking 
them again, to drown the screams. 

At last the lieutenant raised a hand. Secord interrupted him. 

Hough gulped down his mouthful, came over and listened to the 
prisoner’s whispers. 

“Good, Tieutenant Boyd, you were keen that Captain Brant 
should know this,” he said. “I will tell him, you have my word.” 

“Mercy,” Boyd managed to mumble. 

His head slumped forward onto Hough’s shoulder. The other 
man began stroking his golden hair, ignoring the prisoner’s pleas. 

“Tisten. My house isn’t there any more, as I’ve already told you, 
and neither is my brother. He was an idiot, but I loved him and he 

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was all the family I had. Maybe you killed him, maybe you didn’t. 
As chance would have it, you were the one who crossed my path 
today. The unfathomable will of God. For us, the war ends here. I’m 
taking you with me to Geneseo. I will receive your general in an 
appropriate fashion.” 

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They had been running for four days. They had allowed themselves 
just enough time to eat and rest, to gather their strength. The oldest 
were starting to lag behind. Philip had decided to march at the back 
of the column, to be sure that no one collapsed. Even the boys were 
tired. They had never made such an effort. 

It wouldn’t be long now. Geneseo was about twenty miles away. 
The next day they would reach Butler s camp, join up with the bulk 
of the contingent. 

This could be their last moment of rest before the clash. 

Sitting in the middle of the bivouac, Philip studied the faces one 
by one, as if looking at a fresco. These bodies exuded an energy that 
didn’t smell of blood and lead. They looked like the residents of an 
unknown city, marching to stop a hurricane or a flood. 

He looked at the little boys with their incredulous eyes, and 
couldn’t imagine them fighting with knives. He saw them in the 
forest, hunting deer, or swimming in a river. He watched the elderly 
warriors and wondered not how many enemies they might kill but 
where they would take their families at the start of winter. He saw 
them surrounded by children and grandchildren, dying in their 
parents’ village, not covered by dust and blood. He looked at the 
white volunteers who escorted Joseph, and saw merchants, farmers, 
blacksmiths, and carpenters. 

He had new eyes. Perhaps he would see the same things on the 
faces of the enemy. 

Sullivan’s men were Germans, Dutchmen, English and Irish 
Whigs, Corsican exiles, Swiss mercenaries, Oneida and Tuscarora 
guides. Certainly, some of them were fighting for a principle, but 
others for money, others still out of fear or a desire for glory. Some 
had followed their older brothers, some had enlisted against their 
fathers’ will. Some were driven by hatred, others by personal gain. 
Philip knew about the motto that Sullivan carried on his banners: 

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4 S 6 


“Civilization or death to all savages.” His soldiers yelled it in chorus, 
in a toast to destruction. They yelled it at the stone houses and the 
cultivated fields, at the woolen clothes and the rifles. They yelled it 
at an alliance of peoples who had long ago adopted a law of peace. 
They yelled it to say that anyone not like themselves deserved 
extermination. And yet none of them resembled one another. 

Philip looked at the plain again. After many moons he was ready 
to fight once more, even if he no longer had a people to defend. 

We must live, Esther repeated in his mind. 

Had coming events permitted, he would have gone back to try 
and find that new beginning she spoke of, that spring. 

The sentries who signaled their arrival seemed to have picked up the 
mood of the camp. A feeling of demobilization. 

Joseph led the column of old men and children around the fires 
that were still lit, so that they could rest and eat something. Philip 
came up beside him and touched his arm. He pointed to the war 
poles: under a cloud of flies, two eviscerated Oneidas. The younger 
men looked at them, impressed. 

Joseph froze. He saw John Butler coming toward him. 

“The news isn’t good, Joseph Brant.” 

In a few phrases Butler told them about the failed attack on the 
enemy vanguard. 

Joseph took the blow. 

“Sullivan is too clever to be taken by surprise, now that he’s been 
warned,” Butler added. “We can’t fight a battle in the open field. 
There are too many of them. Geneseo is doomed.” 

Joseph looked at Philip. He saw his own disappointment reflected 
in his friend’s eyes. Running had been pointless. He gestured at the 
men taking down the tents. 

“Where are they going?” 

“Home,” Butler replied, as he studied the ragtag band that had 
come from Niagara. “Send these boys back. Let them go home to 
their mothers.” Then he noticed gray hair. “And their children,” 
he added. “There’s nothing more we can do. It’s over, Joseph. The 
Senecas were fighting for Geneseo, nothing else. Now they’ll come 
back to die of hunger and cold in Fort Niagara.” He bit into a piece 
of tobacco. “Our men want to go home as well. Those who still have 
one. The others I’m taking with me to Oswego. When Sir John 

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comes down from Montreal with reinforcements, well resume the 

“Are you abandoning Fort Niagara?” 

Butler sighed and came closer, as if to share a secret. 

“We have extorted information from the prisoners. Niagara isn’t 
Sullivan’s objective.” 

Joseph said nothing, assessing this most unexpected piece of 

“He’s heading east,” added the Irishman. 

In the silence that followed, Joseph’s thoughts traveled quickly, 
covering the plain as far as Five Fingers, and then still further, to the 
Mohawk Valley. 

“He wants to destroy the other towns,” said Butler. “Sweep 
everything away.” 

Joseph stared at the embers. The temptation to call it a day was 
strong. The weariness of the journey was about to defeat him. He 
had used up his strength keeping anxiety at bay. 

He thought of how the Six Nations would soon be ashes. 
Abandoned to their fate by the allies. First Guy Johnson. Then Sir 
John and Daniel Claus. Now, finally, John Butler. He had fought by 
Joseph’s side until the last, but now, even for him, the Indians were a 
millstone of three thousand starving people. 

His son’s voice claimed Butler’s attention. Walter was ready, the 
Rangers were arranging themselves in a column. 

“Come with us,” said the old Irishman. 

Joseph remained motionless. 

“We will wait for you in Oswego,” added Butler, his face grim. 

Behind him, the Rangers began marching, silent and weary. 
The Senecas set oft in dribs and drabs, little groups of warriors 
disappearing along the path. Joseph checked the provisions and the 
water in the canteen. 

“Sullivan’s heading east,” he said, turning to Philip. “The first town 
along the way is Cayuga. My children are down there. My mother.” 

“It’s nearly ninety miles away.” 

“Bring the old people and the children back to Niagara,” Joseph 
ordered him. 

“They’ve come as far as this. They’ll find their way back,” replied 
his friend, slinging his rifle over his shoulder. “In Cayuga there are 
old people and children. We must get them all out.” 

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“Just US two?” 

Philip pointed behind him. 

“Apparently not.” 

Joseph turned and saw Kanatawakhon standing a few feet away, 
leaning on the barrel of his rifle, ready to leave. Without another 
word, the three men headed toward the edge of the camp, but the 
figures of two warriors appeared on the path in front of them. 

“Do you want to face Sullivan on your own?” asked Oronhyateka. 

“We are going to save my children,” Joseph replied. 

“A memorable venture ?” asked Kanenonte. 

“One worthy of a son of the Wolf clan.” 

Kanenonte smiled, and Oronhyateka launched into the ululation 
of war. 

They walked across the plain and into the depths of the trees, 
urged on by the twilight and by fate, an army of five men and many 

They ran to save a clutch of souls from the Apocalypse. They ran, 
because it was written thus. Time was ending, and everything was 
reaching its conclusion. 

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Left-Hand Twin is ice. He is the lord of winter, cold, slippery, sharp 
as rock crystal. He is a storm from the northeast, a chill that slips 
between the chinks of the shacks. Man of Ice, Cold Cold Heart, 
Mirror of Stone: some say that his true nature is the Whirlwind. 

Right-Hand Twin is fire. He is the lord of summer, hot, damp, 
soft ground. He is a warm breeze from the southeast, he is a flame 
that boils water and cooks food. Master of Life, Support of the Sky, 
God the Father: some say that his nature is the Sun’s Ray. 

Destruction, too, comes from the southeast, but it is a cloud full of 
hailstones that gathers, filling the sky. Lightning rains down from its 
belly; its messengers devastate the earth. In the cloud there is fire, but 
it does not belong to Right-Hand Twin. The whites have usurped its 
direction — since they crossed the ocean everything has been confused, 
and mourning often comes from the east. Rum smallpox on a skeletal 
horse, and now this: columns of rifles, bayonets, and cannon. Fire 
drives the white man’s heart. Incessant, frantic blood feeds endless 
expanses of men, more than one could possibly imagine, more than 
the greatest flock of migrating birds. They wait for Destruction to 
spill out like locusts and put an end to our days. 

At the dimming of a short, cold day, General Sullivan made the 
decision. A pale rain fell on the canvas of the tents and on his 
tricorn; the horses’ nostrils gave oft puffs of steam. The men walked 
with their heads lowered. No drums, no fifes, flags drenched with 
water. Weariness. Once past Geneseo, the next stage could only be 
Niagara. An English garrison, refugees, many warriors. They would 
certainly have received provisions and ammunition from Canada. 
Winter threatened to be long and cold. It would be a terrible siege, 
not only for those inside. 

Sullivan had thought for months and months about the wedge- 
shaped fortifications. The walls were solid. There, even the Tories 

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had cannons. Sullivan thought again of recent events. War between 
different peoples, without laws, is inevitably cruel; there are no 
pauses for pity, and the beast reveals itself in its most repugnant 
forms. In his mind Sullivan saw Lieutenant Boyd tied to a tree on 
the path to Geneseo. Decapitated, eviscerated — his own innards 
the cords that bound him, like a grotesque ornament, a hideous 
offering to the demons of the savages. He felt in the depths of his 
soul that his mission must be pursued to its conclusion, coldly and 
intelligently, to free the future nation from such scandalous and 
immoral neighbors. 

Sullivan had made his mind up. He would turn back, he would 
not contravene Washingtons orders: to lay waste the territory of the 
Six Nations, and sow their fields with salt. Delenda est Carthago. 
Every house had to be destroyed, all farmland ruined, all traces of 
the presence of the Indians erased. 

The right thing to do. Veer eastward, toward Cayuga and the 
Mohawk Valley. 

There are times when wisdom is folly, recklessness the only wisdom. 
The death of a man gives life to worms and larvae. Then they, too, 
die, and from the loam arise the village fires. Children nurse, and 
young men paint their faces, preparing to deal out more death. 

Sky Woman asked the Twins: “Do you know where you came 
from? And do you know where you will go when your journey on 
this earth is over?” 

Right-Hand Twin replied: “I know: we descended from the sky, 
from the world above the clouds. I will not forget it. When the time 
is right, I will return to the place I came from.” 

Sky Woman rejoiced. “I will call you He Who Supports the Sky.” 

Then she turned to the other one. Left-Hand Twin said: “What 
need have I to know where I come from and where I will go when I 
leave the earth? Don’t give me a headache by talking about another 
world, because now I am in this one. I am young, I am strong, and 
there is plenty of amusement here.” 

They were always like that. Following the army, finishing its work. 
Sullivan concerned himselfwith laying waste, destroying, uprooting: 
the plundering wasn’t too accurate. After the last rearguard action 
came the turn of the irregulars. 

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When the soldiers had passed the horizon, or lost themselves in 
the dense belly of the forest, the women who had managed to flee 
returned, the bravest first of all. They came back in dribs and drabs: 
if you concentrated on the first group, you had all the time in the 
world to do what you needed to do. You had to stay in hiding, spy 
on their movements, see where the savages had hidden the most 
precious things. Usually they buried them. Then Nathaniel Gordon 
and his men came out of hiding and began the dance. There is no 
war without plunder, no plunder without rape, and a good rape is 
crowned with a killing. 

Klug counted the gold coins drawn from a coffer of wood and 
leather. There was a lot of money in there. He told himself again 
and again that his choice had been right: after being thrown out of 
the militia, he had thought he would need a bit more war and a few 
more scalps before returning to German Flatts as a patriot. 

He glanced inside. Nathaniel Gordon was giving orders to the 
others; the Delaware guide was laughing and running after a dog. 
His hat with the ears fell and rolled in the dust. 

At some point the dog stopped, turned around, legs straight, and 
started barking and baring its teeth. The Delaware crushed its head 
with his tomahawk. 

Christ, what was the savage doing ? He had taken out his knife 
and opened up its belly, started skinning it, exposing the muscles 
and thin layer of fat to the cold. The others had lit a fire. 

“Do you want some, too, Klug?” 

“Christ, no! I don’t eat the food of savages, for God’s sake.” 

Nathaniel Gordon sniggered. “You really are a peasant, Klug. 
And I thought these weeks would have weaned you.” His cold eyes 
stared into the German’s. “As far as I’m concerned, this meat is 
excellent.” He bared his yellow teeth and bit into a haunch of the 
dog. He chewed complacently. “After waging war, I get incredibly 
hungry. I’d even roast the savages’ kids, if I could find any.” 

The company burst out laughing. The Delaware cleaned his teeth 
with the tip of his knife. Nathaniel Gordon went on: “Come on, 
Klug, you don’t know what you’re missing. I don’t want you to 
offend your primitive friend.” 

Klug noisily exhaled. His companions were scary. All too easy to 
displease these people. And yet he hadn’t pulled out, not even of the 
most repugnant ventures. 

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The crows described broad circles above the smoke of the ruins. A 
cloud of steam formed in front of mouths and noses, before quickly 
vanishing. Klug gulped and accepted a piece of meat. He brought it 
to his mouth and began to chew. 

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46 . 

Another month, then the frost, the snow, lethargy. Big prey was 
rare in the cold season, and the forests around Lake Cayuga were 
no exception. That month would let everyone know whether Isaac 
Brant was a good hunter. Whether he could kill his first deer at the 
age of twelve, like the best warriors of the nation. 

As he cleaned his rifle he studied the day ahead. Veils of mist 
passed over the village. The big houses of squared-off tree trunks 
came into view, and beyond the palisade the crests of beech trees 
broke through the gray. 

When he emerged, the sun was behind the mountains and the 
toads were out enjoying the damp air. He took a little flask from 
his pocket and poured into his throat rum that tasted of molasses 
and tobacco. He checked his gunpowder, cartridges and knife one 
last time, then had another swig. He could take it easy: no one 
was waiting for him apart from the deer he had dreamed of. For 
months he had gone hunting on his own. There wasn’t much choice 
of company in Cayuga: little children, women, old men with poor 
eyesight who didn’t want to make fools of themselves in front of a 
boy. Other young men hunted in groups, but they made so much 
noise that they never caught anything. 

Grandma Margaret’s voice struck him in the back of the neck. 
Isaac saw her and stayed at a distance: the old woman’s stench turned 
his stomach. She was always wrapped up in that blanket, sitting in 
her armchair, all day and at night as well. 

“There’s a dark patch on the sun and the wind smells of fire and 

Isaac walked away, cursing. The sun hadn’t yet appeared and the 
wind hadn’t breathed for days. 

In the road, a little boy waved to him over his mother’s shoulder. 
Isaac quickened his pace: a real hunter has eyes only for his prey. 
Women and kids are pointless distractions. 

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4 6 4 


He took a path into the forest that crossed a deer track, five miles 
uphill. He hadn’t walked two hundred yards when a sound made him 
freeze. Feet running, branches breaking. A hubbub that no hunter 
would make, not even when following a fawn at breakneck speed. 

Isaac hid behind a tree trunk, his mind in torment. His right half 
hoped they were strangers, his left that they were enemies. 

He raised the barrel of his rifle and at that precise moment the 
sound stopped. Silence, except for the distant wailing of doves. Then 
a rustling sound that started at a point high up the hill, multiplied, 
and ran in several directions. 

They were surrounding him. He instinctively ran down the hill. 
One of his pursuers yelled, and Isaac recognized the war cry of the 
Wolf clan, slowed down for a moment and turned back. Out of 
the corner of his eye he spotted a shadow coming toward him, but 
didn’t have time to move. He found himself on the ground. 

“Isaac ? Stop, it’s Isaac.” 

It was the voice of Jacob Kanatawakhon, who was already getting 
to his feet and holding out his hand. 

Immediately after him came Isaac’s father. “Where are Christina 
and Margaret?” 

Other men from Canajoharie appeared. Philip Tacroix, Jethro 
Kanenonte, Paul Oronhyateka. 

“Get up, we have to warn everyone. Sullivan’s army is a few miles 
from here.” 

Isaac ignored the hand and got to his feet by himself. 

He opened his eyes wide. He was surrounded by the bravest 
warriors of the clan, and felt that this day would stay in his memory 
more than any great hunt. 

He beckoned them to follow, and set oft headlong for Cayuga. 

The nights were cold and tense, a dark abyss. Beneath the weight of 
the blankets, Klug lay cramped like a sick animal, his back and legs 
shivering. After drowsing for a long time, he fell asleep just before 
dawn, only to be immediately woken by a kick in the ribs, a furious 
cry. The life of a raider was hard. And then there was that business 
about the dog meat. He didn’t know why, but he had a sense that 
after that episode something had changed. 

Now they were on reconnaissance. They couldn’t light fires 
to cook, so for days they had lived on dried meat, and Klug had 

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a knot where his guts should have been. He never dreamed. For a 
few minutes he went into a funnel of darkness, when the thoughts 
running through his head left him free. For days, that was the only 
sleep he had had. 

A damp sensation on his forehead and his cheeks. He opened his 
eyes and looked up. The face struggled to take shape, emerging out 
of a vague blur: Nathaniel Gordon, tall as a giant, was pulling on his 
breeches. Klug suddenly sat up. The band exploded into grotesque 
laughter. The Delawares body shook, his eyes streamed, his mouth 
laughed and laughed, coarsely, shrilly. A wail came from his throat, 
like a skinned pig or an Indian squaw when you opened her legs. 

Nathaniel Gordon suddenly changed expression. Everyone fell silent. 

“Move yourself, Klug. You’re always the last, you’re a millstone. I 
don’t know if I can be bothered to take you with us.” 

He turned to the rest of his mates. “Come on, the village is 
waiting for us.” 

One of the raiders broke in. “That’s right, Nat. The village is waiting 
for us. Perhaps it’ll be like it was in Secondaga, an old man jumping out 
of nowhere and shooting at us. Wouldn’t it be better to wait for Klug as 
well? There could be some surprises, so the more of us the better.” 

Nathaniel Gordon shook his head. “By the time we get to the 
village, Klug will have joined us. Even if he stays behind, it’ll be no 
great loss.” 

The gang walked along the path that went down toward Cayuga. 
Klug moved as quickly as he could. His bones ached, but he hated 
being left behind, on his own, in the middle of the forest. He 
looked anxiously around, pricked up his ears, as his companions’ 
backs disappeared toward the valley. He quickly gathered his things 
together, hoisted his rucksack onto his back, then stopped for a 
moment. He set down the rucksack and quickly loaded his rifle. 
The first cartridge fell, spilling its contents on the damp ground. 
He cursed and finished the operation — cartridge wad, stuff it right 
down to the end of the barrel — and slung the rifle over his shoulder, 
looked at the path and set off. 

His companions had disappeared into the half-light of dawn, 
behind the last bend. 

Philip walked slowly. He reviewed the column of refugees. 
Everything was ready for their departure. 

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About fifty people, perhaps sixty. Women, children. Old men 
whose arms couldn’t have supported the weight of a tomahawk. 
Children clutching sticks, knives, even, some of them, rusty rifles 
left over from the last war. At best they could have been used as 
cudgels. Oronhyateka and Kanenonte were joking, weighing those 
wretched weapons in their hands, prompting admiration by relating 
their feats of war. 

Kanenonte struck his chest with a fist, then pointed at Philip. 
“You see? We’re fighting alongside Joseph Brant and the Great 
Devil. They trust us.” 

Philip walked on. Kanatawakhon stared at the trees around 
them, and the bushes, and the rocks in the path, as if waiting to see 
enemies emerging in the shape of lizards. 

Isaac was at the head, first in line, armed, frowning, proud. He 
looked straight ahead and took a deep breath, swelling his chest. 
He was shivering and trying not to let it show. He looks like Joseph 
when he was a boy, Philip thought. 

Joseph was at the rear, busy persuading his mother. 

“I told you, Margaret. We have to leave right away, we can’t wait 
as much as the flutter of a wing.” 

The old woman, wrapped up in her musty blanket, pressed 
Christina to her and looked at the trees, like Kanatawakhon. 

“I tell you that the wind smelled of carrion. Of fire and carrion. 
We can’t leave now, we’ll end up in the stench and the flames.” 

“There isn’t so much as a breeze, mother. The fire will break out 
here, if we don’t leave quickly.” 

“I don’t recognize you any more, Joseph, you seem like a white person ! 
Can’t you smell the stink? The carrion is further down the path!” 

Philip felt the hairs on his arms standing up. He walked over to 
Kanatawakhon. “What’s worrying you, brother ?” 

“Noises, Great Devil. They are faint, but I had them in my ears, 
I’m sure of it.” 

“With all this shouting, your hearing might have deceived you.” 

“No, Great Devil. I have trained my ears not to make fun of me. I 
heard something beneath the voices.” 

“Sullivan?” asked Philip. 

“No. Those would be big noises, heavy as bears. These are insects.” 

They walked over to the mother and son, who were still 
squabbling. Philip put a hand on Joseph’s shoulder. “Maybe your 

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mother is right,” he said. “Strange movements around here. Better 
go and see.” 

Joseph frowned. 

“Listen to your friend, Joseph,” said the old woman. “He’s a good 
Mohawk, even though he’s French.” 

They called Oronhyateka and Kanenonte. After a swift 
confabulation, it was decided that the column would leave, but 
cautiously and in silence. The five warriors would walk half a mile 
ahead, along the sides of the path, moving swiftly from one tree to 
the next. If they intercepted the enemy, they would try to surprise 
and eliminate him, as the column proceeded along the path. Then 
they would rejoin the column, to escort it upon its long journey. 

Joseph called Isaac over. “You’re a man now. We must check that 
the escape route is not dangerous. Until we come back, I entrust to 
you the protection of Margaret and Christina.” 

Isaac froze as if standing to attention, lifted his chin and said 
between gritted teeth, “I will defend them.” 

Joseph heard a hiss. He turned around and saw Philip crouching 
behind a tree, sniffing the air that came down from the hills. 

A click of the tongue from one warrior to the next brought the 
group together. They started to climb the ridge, then Philip gestured 
to them to spread out. Oronhyateka and Kanatawakhon squatted 
down in the shelter of a big pine tree. Philip, Joseph and Kanenonte 
hid in the tall grass. Philip hunkered down, supporting himself with 
his rifle. He looked at the ground, breathing slowly. 

Klug walked quickly. He realized that he could put a foot in a trap. 
The path was steep and uneven, and his back was burdened with the 
weight of the sack and the rifle. He was utterly exhausted, in pieces, 
wrecked, and with each step he swore he would go home to German 
Flatts and immerse himself in politics, now that he’d been in the war 
and everyone knew it. 

Where were the others ? Klug looked for the rest of the unit, then 
saw them eighty, ninety yards ahead. He gazed after them as he 
quickened his pace. 

There was a shot, a cloud of smoke. One of his companions fell. 
The others picked up their rifles. A crisp, shouted order. Nat’s men 
threw down their arms. Indians emerged on either side of the path. 

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A cold shudder ran through Klug. He felt his guts twisting. He 
squatted down behind a rock. 

Joseph studied Nathaniel Gordon. “Your face is familiar.” 

The man spat contemptuously on the ground. “I’ve never seen 
you before. I don’t know who you are.” 

Joseph’s face was ice. “Soon you won’t want to defy me any longer.” 

Oronhyateka lifted the fur hat oft the Delaware’s head and turned 
it around in his hands. Kanenonte pointed his finger at the tobacco 
pouch that the Delaware wore on his belt. A sudden awareness 
spread through the minds of the Mohawks. The Delaware shivered. 
Kanenonte emitted a high-pitched, terrible cry. 

Christ, it looked as if they hadn’t noticed him. The path sloped 
downward, and it wasn’t yet broad daylight. Klug felt an impulse 
to turn around, to flee as quickly as he could. But there was a figure, 
there at the end, that he couldn’t take his eyes away from. 

He gave a start. Holy Christ, it was Joseph Brant. Tobster-colored 
jacket and war paint. His way of moving was unmistakable. Careful 
as a cat, Klug took out his spyglass. Nat Gordon’s face was livid. The 
Delaware was a wall of stone. And the chief of the savages really was 
Joseph Brant. 

His heart beat like crazy. Klug felt the cold determination of 
hatred stirring his limbs. Before wondering if he was capable of 
carrying out his task, he had raised his Kentucky carbine. He pulled 
the trigger. 

Just a faint metallic click and the spark of the flint. He thought 
he’d loaded the rifle, but the barrel was empty. 

He cursed between his teeth, prayed that he would be granted 
enough time. He reloaded carefully, heard cries, looked down the 
hill. The situation was coming to a head. 

He shouldered, aimed. The hero who would wipe out Monster 
Brant was there, behind the rock, and his name was Klug. He pulled 
the trigger. A cloud of smoke hid the scene. Klug tilted his head 
to one side to check the effect of the shot. There was a man on the 
ground, the Delaware was fighting with another savage, and perhaps 
his companions would prevail, but Klug’s legs decided to flee. 

Run, one step after the other. He, Jonas Klug, the man who had 
wiped out Joseph Brant. 

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47 . 

Philip saw Molly, in pale blue, and took a step forward to climb the 
hill. He breathed in air and light, the world was calm, the corn was 
ripe and meditative, the wounds of the world were cool dew. Molly 
was far away, up at the top, but he knew he would reach her. Alter so 
long his feet moved lightly, and the grass responded to their touch, 
bent and allowed him to pass. The universe listened curiously. The 
war was over and there was sun everywhere. 

Molly waved and smiled. Come, from here you can see 
everything, fields and lakes, mountains and oceans, cycles reaching 

Philip was close to her, looking straight ahead. The world no 
longer had a horizon, it stretched as far as the eye could see, and 
went on, increasingly narrow and dense, vague and drenched with 
air, without ever disappearing. 

Peoples and colors, lives and destinies, all alive in that thin strip. 

There at the end, we are seen from behind, thought Philip Tacroix 
Ronaterihonte. If the arrow of my eye reached so far, it could stick 
into the back of my neck. 

Molly Brant Degonwadonti took him by the hand. 

The air formed hesitant little whirls. 

Philip spoke. 

It’s time for me to know why you chose me. 

Cast your eye to the end, drummer boy. And behind us, and all 
around. We are at the peak of time, where the reply precedes the 
question, the effect precedes the cause, death precedes birth. 

You had to climb that hill to understand your journey. 

Without your mother and father, you died as a Frenchman to be 
born as a Mohawk, the day Hendrick fell in battle. 

That day Sir Williams world put down roots. 

You had to die to avenge Hendrick. But you escaped, and a new 
cycle opened up. 

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The nation gave you a father and a mother. You have been a great 
warrior. You have endured ordeals. You walked with the Mohawks. 

Then the nation lost you, and you lost the nation. The 
incompleteness of your cycle unbalanced the world, and the Master 
ofTife knew it. 

You had to come back to the world, Ronaterihonte, to be able to 
die, to illuminate the fate of the Tonghouse. 

Philip spoke. 

I, without a mother, no longer know how many times I was born. 
You are the first midwife and the last. You turned me into a 
Mohawk and you have called me back for the first time. 

Now you are death. 

Molly spoke. 

One circle is closing, another is opening. 

Molly spoke. 

The Six Nations will live. 

Philip sighed, his eyes filled with tears. 

The lead had torn the flesh to pieces, severed a vein, freed the blood. 
Someone called a name: “Ronaterihonte!” 

Someone intoned a question. 

Someone grunted a reply. 

The last human figures crowded into the corners, increasingly 

Teeth would be ground, fists clenched. 

Weeping, and singing, and farewells. 

Philip was ready. 

I’m returning to the world s womb, mother, my origin, my nation. 
In the warm, welcoming darkness of the earth. 

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48 . 

Joseph remembered the first time he had seen Philip. A frightened 
boy, in uniform, maybe white or maybe Indian. 

Joseph, too, had been a boy, too young to fight. Molly had 
brought him with her to Lake George. He had to help the women 
treat the injured: run to fetch water to wash the wounds or rum to 
anesthetize those with bullets stuck in their flesh. Help support the 
ones who could barely walk. 

That day she had seen Sir William coming back from the camp 
on a stretcher. The men escorting him had told her: Hendrick was 

Shortly afterward, standing next to Molly, he had witnessed the 
arrival of the convoy of prisoners, among the shouts of rage and pain 
of the warriors and the groans of people being dragged along and 

The little boy was exhausted. Joseph was sure that his blood 
would soak the grass. Instead, his sister had darted forward, proud 
and furious. She had defied the warriors, had shamed them, made 
them feel stupid and irrelevant to the history of the Six Nations. At 
one point Joseph had seen himself being pointed at, for Molly had 
used him as an argument: that boy is the same age as my brother. 

That day the nation adopted the future Grand Diable. And 
Joseph’s life changed forever. 

Now the world had opened up its mouth full of ulcers and rotten 
teeth and swallowed Philip up. 

Joseph could feel it: the bullet been meant for him. 

A note of pain rang out among gums, temples and eyeballs. 
Overlapping orders roared in his ears, mumbled and lost in echo, 
increasingly meaningless. 

Around the dying, everything was quickly changing. 

Joseph would see. He would have time. He would speak to the 
ghosts. Time to think, remember, blame himself, exculpate himself. 

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47 2 


And live in the place of the dead, live, because that’s how it is, you 
live or you die. And the living take care of the living, of those left 

Sullivan was a threat hanging over them. They had to assemble 
a stretcher for Philip’s body and reach the column of survivors. 
Christina, Isaac, Margaret. Save them all, leave this crazy world. 

“ We’re staying here, Thayendanegea,” said Oronhyateka, pointing 
to the prisoners. “There’s something to be done, at long last, you 

“Since this story began,” added Kanenonte. 

“Sullivan’s on his way,” replied Joseph. “There’s no time. . .” 

“You and Kanatawakhon can escort the refugees without our 
help,” said Oronhyateka. 

Kanenonte smiled. “We’ll see each other where the Great Devil 
waits for us, one day.” 

Joseph narrowed his eyes, sucked air through his nostrils, 
hunched his shoulders as if he were cold. He opened his eyes again 
and said, “So be it.” 

The man who had introduced himself as Nathaniel Gordon, 
sitting on the ground with his wrists tied behind his back, looked at 
Joseph with pleading eyes. 

“I can tell you the name of the one who fired at your friend, 
Joseph Brant! He’s a fellow villager of yours! Klug! Damn the day 
that German joined us!” 

The warriors gave a start, glances flew from one face to the other. 
Joseph clenched his fists on air, until he felt pain in his wrists. 

“Everything finds its place, Thayendanegea,” said Oronhyateka, 
then turned toward Gordon: “Nothingyou tell us will save your life. 
You and your friends must pay much more than this.” 

Gordon uttered a wail and deflated like a pierced water-bottle, 
drained of all energy. “Please, Joseph Brant.” 

Joseph stared at him contemptuously. “You have done nothing 
for yourselves. How could I do anything for you?” 

Kanenonte and Oronhyateka wept and laughed, covered their faces 
with their hands, slapped each other on the back. They looked as if 
they had lost their senses, yet they were getting drunk methodically, 
they were skillfully reviving the flames, and however much rum they 
drank, they always came back to torture the prisoner tied upside 

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down by the fire. Each scrap of flesh cut away bore a name: “This 
is for Samuel Waterbridge. This is for Royathakariyo. This is for 
Sakihenakenta. This is for Ronaterihonte.” 

The Delaware didn’t cry out, not so much as a grunt. Scalped, 
skinned, arms burned and hot ash on the exposed flesh. 

The others had to watch, kicks and slaps if they closed their eyes. 
They prayed like children. Each of them had vomited and pissed 
and shat himself. Gordon had no more tears to weep. 

“Did you hear that lovely phrase of Thayendanegea’s ?” said 
Kanenonte, laughing and showing his teeth. “I wish Ed said it! ‘You 
have done nothing for yourselves. How could I do anything for 
you?’ ” 

“Thayendanegea is a great warrior,” observed Oronhyateka. 

“And what about us ? Are we great warriors ?” Kanenonte asked. 

Oronhyateka didn’t reply. For the umpteenth time he walked 
over the prisoner. 

He raised the knife, carved out and removed a scrap of skin. 

“This is for Oronhyateka.” 

He immediately cut away another. 

“This is for Kanenonte.” 

Laughter, sobs and prayers. Crackling flames. 

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The earth was damp and soft; the digging spades encountered no 
obstacles. Joseph and Kanatawakhon worked quickly. Isaac wrapped 
an arm around Christina’s shoulders. Margaret hovered around the 
two warriors and looked at them as if making sure the work was 
going well. The rest of the column was bivouacked a short distance 
away, but only the Brant family witnessed the burial of the Great 
Devil. A burial without rites, neither Christian nor pagan, before 
resuming the journey. Fort Niagara was a long way away. 

Philips body was wrapped in Margaret’s blanket. The old woman had 
seen him dead, lying on the stretcher of branches and vines. Murmuring 
something, she had taken off the big dusty rag and stepped forward. 

“Are you sure, Grandma?” Isaac had asked. “The air is cold.” 

“No matter. I have not many moons remaining. Soon I will put 
it back on.” 

Joseph had given his mother his own woolen jacket. The old 
woman wore it sleeveless, as if it were a shawl. 

In a few minutes, Joseph and Kanatawakhon had dug a ditch five 
feet deep. 

Now it was time to lower the body. Joseph felt duty and effort 
constricting his throat, like two hands attempting to strangle him. 
He felt himself tottering on the edge of the hole. Kanatawakhon 
gripped him by an arm. 

“This grave claims me too,” Joseph said, “but the time has not yet 

“Sit down, Thayendanegea, you’re tired,” said his companion. 

“How long is it since we last slept, Kanatawakhon?” 

“I’ve lost count of the days, brother.” 

“So have I.” Joseph walked a few feet away and called his son; 
“Isaac, give me a hand. Team to bury the dead.” 

Isaac broke away from his sister, and Joseph took his place. The 
little girl gripped her father’s leg. 

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Kanatawakhon and Isaac lifted the body by the shoulders and the 
feet, carried it over with abrupt solemnity and dropped it into the 

Ronaterihonte’s final journey was a quick flight, and his landing 
made no sound. The soft earth received the body and seemed to 
shape itself around it. The warrior and the boy gripped their spades. 
Joseph stopped them. 

He turned to his mother: “Margaret, you are the oldest. You 
represent the clan, the nation. Say a word for this warrior.” 

Everyone fell silent. The old woman moved, bent and tottering. 
She stopped a foot away from the edge. 

“My dear ones loved you well, Philip Lacrosse. My daughter gave 
you life. Part of my son dies with you.” 

Joseph felt the vise tightening around his throat, squeezing his 
head, forcing it to throw out tears. His eyes welled up. 

“My grandson buries you. I shall be the last to salute you. We will 
all pray for you.” 

Having said these words, she walked away. She passed by Joseph 
and Christina and walked one step at a time toward the refugee 

Joseph gave the signal. The spades lifted piles of earth. 

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“Master of Life, you have been joined by a great warrior, who knew 
the People of the Flint in their adverse times and wove his destiny 
with theirs, like the wampum I clutch in my hands. His name is 
Ronaterihonte. The rivers and valleys have known his fame and his 
courage. He has defended the nation in danger, has lived with us 
through times of famine and wretchedness. He has taught us that 
when the shadow falls upon the earth it is not honor that counts, 
but the safety of those under threat. Our brother Ronaterihonte 
obscured his light to pass through the darkness along with his 
people. Master of Light, welcome him as you would welcome the 
noblest of men. Amen.” 

Johannes Tekarihoga lowered the arms that he had stretched 
toward the sky, lit by the sun. By the rock where he liked to go and 
contemplate it, the lake glittered golden. 

When he heard the beating of wings, he smiled. He turned his 
head and saw the woodpecker flying along beside him. 

“You have come back, my friend.” 

He was aware of the warmth of midday, although the bite of 
November was already there. He took a deep breath and felt a sense 
of ancient vigor, of renewed energy passing through his limbs. 
He savored the wind that slipped among the willows. He felt the 
water around him flowing in his veins, as he seemed to hear the 
announcement of a propitious event. The surface of the lake was 
populated by spirits: birds, warriors, sachems and matrons of the 
land, aware of the fate of their own descendants. 

The woodpecker alighted on his shoulder. The old Mohawk s face 

“There. Our fathers await me.” The chief of the Tortoise 
clan breathed in deeply through his nostrils and looked at the 
woodpecker again. “My heart will be with you, in the Garden in 
the middle of the Water,” he whispered quietly between his lips. 

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He half-closed his eyes and seemed to be sleeping. The woodpecker 
flew away, toward the lake, where dark outlines of ships appeared 
on the horizon. 

A salvo of cannon-fire and the cries of the lookouts rang out from 
the towers of the fort, while the body of the old sachem slipped into 
the water. 

Guy Johnson was striding back and forth on deck, slowed down 
by the mass of wretched figures boarding the ship, with clutches 
of children, household goods and scrawny animals. As soon as he 
stepped on dry land he was struck by their silence, as if everyone had 
decided not to be heard, fearful that the road to safety might close 
as it had opened. 

He understood that he had arrived just in time. The journey had 
lasted more than a year. Soon after he sailed from New York, at the 
beginning of autumn in 1778, a terrible freeze had left him stuck in 
Halifax until the spring, when he had continued on to Montreal. 
Then down along the St. Tawrence to the lake, and now Niagara. 

The tales of poverty and hardship had not prepared him for the 
impact with the reality. A proud, tenacious people had known defeat 
and abandonment, famine and death. Tittle scraps of other peoples 
had also coagulated in that corner of the world. They followed the 
fate of the Iroquois, and now all were mixed together in a great mass 
of flesh. Still loyal, whether from convenience or conviction, to the 
king in Tondon. 

He managed to make his way through the crowd and reach the 
slope leading to the fort and the refugee camp. He stopped to get his 
breath and studied the spectacle of all that activity under a bright 
sky that turned the walls white. Aching bodies, consumed with 
hunger, dragged their feet along the shore. The few soldiers of the 
garrison regulated the flow without much effort. 

A lugubrious procession, it was all that remained of the Six 

Tittle more than five years had passed since William Johnson’s 
funeral, but they had been worth a century, and upon a dream that 
had once looked like solid rock was heaped a pile of misery and 
death. He thought of how much he had struggled and risked to 
obtain the post of superintendent of the Indian Department, and 
how little that meant now. 

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He studied the crowd once more. In each of the faces, whether 
familiar or unknown, he traced the common feature of the material 
they were shaped from. Dark soil from the night of time, the faces of 
the old people. Red soil of striated rock, the faces of the last warriors. 
White marble dust, the faces of the young women. 

One of them came over. Guy was struck by her grief-stricken 

“Father,” she said. 

He looked at her in astonishment, unable to recognize his 
daughter in that woman. She wore her hair in the Indian style. 

“Esther. Good God, Esther.” He wanted to hug her but didn’t 
know how: a whole ocean had interposed itself between them, and 
then a continent. They were strangers, but Guy hoped he could still 
offer her an ally and a new life. He had crossed America for this. 

“What are you doing here ?” 

Guy read grief in his daughter’s eyes, but also the innate strength 
that had disconcerted him since she was a little girl. Now he 
recognized it: it was the look of William Johnson. 

“I’m bringing you back to New York. We will leave this place.” 

“It’s too late,” said Esther. 

She let her father take her hand between his. 

“That’s not so,” Guy insisted. “We can go back to London, far 
from the war.” 

“You know I won’t come.” 

“I’m your father, I’m not leaving without you.” 

The woman did something unexpected. She smiled at him. 

“The future is not behind us, but in front of us,” she said. “Beyond 
this lake. The Thousand Islands. That’s where we’re going.” 

“I must forbid you.” 

“But you won’t.” She came over to him and stroked his cheek 
with her hand. “Take care of yourself and my sisters.” She pulled 
away from him and immediately checked herself. “Please, have no 
regrets. It’s how it had to be.” 

She went down toward the deck, where Molly Brant stood 
waiting for her, wrapped in a white cloak. 

Guy wanted to restrain her, but could neither speak nor move. 
Arms dangling at his sides, mouth tightly closed. 

Joseph recognized the solitary figure at the top of the hill. Of all 
the white men he expected to see, Guy Johnson was really the last. 

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He felt a twinge of compassion, as if aware of the effort that it had 
taken him to get there. 

“Joseph,” said Guy, stunned. “I’ve lost everything, even my 

“She has found her place,” said the Indian, watching the woman 
walk away. “Can we say the same thing about ourselves ?” 

Guy looked resigned. 

“What will you do now ?” he asked. 

Joseph answered without thinking. 

“I will use the time I still have left to fight. I will die with honor.” 

The Irishman straightened his back, regained control of himself. 
“I wish you good luck.” 

The Indian took the outstretched hand. Under his tricorn hat, 
Guy Johnson’s bitter expression disappeared. Joseph watched him 
walk oft toward the dock and pass through the crowd gathered 
around the boats. For a moment his hat reemerged from the sea of 
heads, and then it disappeared completely. 

Joseph nodded to Kanatawakhon and went down to the lake. 

Molly supervised the boarding, watching the slow exodus that 
was about to begin. The final act of a journey that had begun four 
years before. 

“You have come to tell me you aren’t coming with us.” 

“We still have scores to settle.” She hugged him. “Protect my 
children and our mother.” 

Isaac, Christina and Margaret were already on one of the boats, 
watching him uncertainly. He himself had ensured that they were 
among the first to board. Isaac turned to look in the other direction. 

“We will wait for you,” said Molly. 

Joseph picked up his knapsack and slung it over his shoulder. He 
walked slowly behind Kanatawakhon, against the current of human 
beings pouring toward the shore. 

Esther watched the land drifting away one last time. She touched 
the wampum that she wore around her wrist. 

Soon she would see Philip again. She knew the road, she had 
traveled it before. 

There is no grieving for those capable of dreams. 

You said you would keep a boat ready for me, my darling. Here 
it is. 

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Philip would climb on board. Together they would cross the lake, 
so big you couldn’t see where it ended. 

Esther looked at Molly, standing on the fo’c’sle. The sight of the 
woman gave her courage. 

There is no destruction for those who understand the law of time. 

She thought of what she had seen in her sixteen years and the 
world that had collapsed around her. 

She thought of the life that awaited her and the new world they 
would build, in the Garden in the middle of the Water. 

The Thousand Islands. 


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Valley of the Mohawk River, 1 783 

The man slipped in the mud and got back to his feet. He trudged 
across the plain toward the forest, his hand pressing against his 
injured hip. 

The rain had transformed the field into a bog, and his feet sank 
into it. 

One knee gave, and the man found himself on the ground once 
more. He pulled himself up, and went on walking bent forward, 
his lungs filled with fear and the sharp smell carried on the wind. 
Houses were burning less than a mile away. He uttered a strangled 
cry, a sob of terror as he rolled in the mud. He managed to sit up 
and slip the pistol from his belt. The gun misfired. He threw it at his 
pursuers with the yelp of a hunted animal. 

They caught up with him easily and stopped to look at him. The 
man was panting with terror, his eyes filled with tears. 

The two Indians nodded to one another. One of the two raised 
his saber. The man screamed. 

His head rolled away. 

The rain was falling thickly, in little drops, enveloping everything 
in gloomy peace. Kanatawakhon pointed the blade downward, 
letting the blood soak the earth. He murmured words in the 
language of his forefathers. 

Joseph picked up the severed head. He took a fistful of mud and 
stuffed it into the open mouth. 

“You wanted my land, Jonas Klug. Here it is. It’s yours now.” 

He put the trophy in a sack and threw it over his shoulder. The 
weariness of the long years of war made the burden even heavier. 

Revenge. His gift to Molly. He had put the valley to the sword 
and flames, once, twice, but Klug had always managed to escape. He 
had flushed him out only now that the war was ending. 

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The air carried the sound of distant gunfire, signals of assembly. 
The Volunteers’ work was over. From the Schoharie to German 
Flatts, the houses of the settlers were in ashes. Sir William’s dream 
had vanished forever; no one else would take it on. 

The two Indians walked slowly to the top of a ridge. They stopped 
to look at the devastation that surrounded them. Smoke rose from 
the four points of the compass, the fields were burnt or ruined, 
cattle that had escaped the raid wandered aimlessly. 

Kanatawakhon spoke a few words. 

“Yes.” Joseph nodded. “We won’t be coming back.” 

The war had been lost. The latest news was that in Paris the white 
men were talking of peace. The English were negotiating surrender, 
but no Indian sat with them. Joseph Brant was an inconvenient ally 
now. The survivors of the Six Nations lived on a handful of islands 
at the mouth of the St. Tawrence. 

Joseph’s mind rose above the rubble of Iroquireland, traveled 
back up the river, flew across the lakes. The vision of Christina 
playing in the sun lightened his heart. Isaac swam to the shore and 
splashed his sister with cold water, making her laugh, then followed 
her inside the log cabin Molly had had built for them. There were 
others, blazing fires, vegetable gardens, boats coming and going. 
And there was she, Degonwadonti, the living image of Sky Woman, 
telling the littlest ones the legend of the Garden of God and the 
thousand fragments that escaped destruction. A thousand drops of 
Paradise where hope could be reared. In the yard, a young woman 
with fair hair chose the seeds that would germinate in the spring. 
The descendants of Corn, Bean and Squash. 

Joseph knew: he would not see that harvest. Not after the end 
of a war that had cost him everything and expected to dismiss him 
without noise or compensation. He would hold the white men to 
their promises, with his last remaining breath. He would go back to 
Tondon, if necessary, to ask the king in person. There was still a long 
journey to travel. He gripped the edge of the bag. 

“We will have to get marching again.” 

The two Indians went down toward the river. Their outlines 
blurred until they vanished beyond the curtain of rain. 

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